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Published: 19th September 2012
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When you think Yves Saint Laurent; timeless elegance always springs to mind, with a consistently graceful approach that always utilised the most opulent dark and sensual hues alongside the highest quality materials.This was displayed most distinctly through Saint Laurent’s love of fur fashion which has been shown in both his spring and summer ready-to-wear collections throughout the years. Labelled the creator of prêt-à-porter (ready-to-wear); Saint Laurent’s supreme talent was keeping true to vintage modes and providing his audience with a perennially classic silhouette but still ticking the trend boxes season after season.
Born Yves Henri Donat Matthieu-Saint-Laurent on 1st August 1936, in Oran, Algeria; Saint Laurent spent most of his childhood years in the Mediterranean. Displaying his creative streak from an early age; Saint Laurent would often make paper dolls and then in his teens, used his sisters and mother as real-life dolls, when he began designing dresses for them. This, combined with winning a fashion sketch competition run by the International Wool Secretariat, saw his mother recognise his potential and whilst accompanying her 17 year old son to the Paris awards ceremony, took him to meet the editor of French Vogue, Michael de Brunhoff.
At the advice of the French editor, Saint Laurent took his drawing skills and moved to Paris to register at the renowned Chambre Syndicale de la Couture. De Brunhoff then introduced Saint Laurent to his idol, Christian Dior, who took the awe-struck young designers breath away and as he claimed “taught me the basis of my art”. Dior was equally impressed with a young Saint Laurent and touted him as his successor, before succumbing to a fatal heart attack and leaving a 21 year old as the head designer. He proved he was up to the task as his Spring/Summer 1958 collection is still revered as the collection that saved the House of Dior but in 1960, the burgeoning designer struggled for an exemption from a conscription to fight for his home country in Algeria’s War of Independence and served 20 days and a time in a military hospital before being excused on the grounds of ill-health. Upon his return, Saint Laurent’s job was no longer ‘available’ and he sued the House of Dior for breach of contract, earning him a reward of £48,000, which in the 1960’s, was a substantial amount of money. Although distraught that he was no longer a part of the House of Dior; this new cash injection gave the designer just what he needed, which along with partner Pierre Berge, was an opportunity to open his very own fashion house.
The next two decades, saw a dominance from the designer as the world began to sit up and take notice as he collected a slew of high-profile celebrity followers. His creations included jump suits and pea coats, plus he took mannish tuxedo styles and gave them a sharp, feminine edge that redesigned the 80’s and the womanly rise of the power suit. The international recognition for this multi-award winning designer’s innovation saw the very first retrospective of a fashion house’s work, which was shown at the Metropolitan Museum in New York City.

After battling many addictions and a subsequent lull in his own creativity in the late 80’s, Saint Laurent reigned supreme once more at the high end of the fashion spectrum in the latter part of the 1990’s with a welcome direct contrast to the plain, grungy trends of the time. After rising to become one of the world’s most influential designers in the 20th century; in 2002, Saint Laurent decided to re-prioritise his life and after selling his share of the business, retired in Marrakech. In honour of his enormous contribution to fashion, French President, Nicolas Sarkozy appointed Saint Laurent the Grand Officer of the Légion d'honneur - one of the highest honours in France.

After sadly passing away in 2008; Saint Laurent’s legacy continues with his protégés taking on his vision through the latest collections. After all, it was Yves Saint Laurent who once said, “Fashion dies, but style remains” and although the man himself is no longer with us, his style will most certainly live on forever.
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