Yves Saint Laurent

Designer Spotlight: Yves Saint Laurent

Yves Saint Laurent was born in Algeria in 1936. He set up his fashion label in 1962 in Paris. His most famous contribution is perhaps the 1965 women’s ‘Le Smoking’ tuxedo suit and his Mondrian collection in the same year.

YSL women's smoking tuxedo suit

At the age of 17, Saint Laurent moved to Paris and enrolled at the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture, where his designs quickly gained notice. He was introduced to Christian Dior by the French editor of Vogue (Michel de Brunhoff) and was hired by him on the spot. Christian eventually chose Yves to succeed him as designer in 1957. Soon after the decision, Christian died of a heart attack and the 21 year old Yves found himself the head designer at the house of Dior. He was catapulted to international fame. His Spring 1958 collection was a hit but his fall collection that year was savaged by the press. The owner of Dior wanted him replaced. 

YSL for Dior first collection 1958

He was conscripted to serve in the French army in 1960. After 20 days, he was admitted to hospital due to the stress of hazing by fellow soldiers. He was then told that he had been fired from Dior. He was given large doses of drugs and electroshock therapy. This was the origin of later mental health and addiction problems in his life. 

After his release, he sued Dior for breach of contract and won. He and his partner, industrialist Pierre Bergé, started their own fashion house Yves Saint Laurent YSL with funds from American millionaire J. Mack Robinson. YSL popularized many fashion trends of the 60s and 70s including the beatnik look, safari jackets and women’s pantsuits. In the late 70s, he initiated the broad, shoulder padded styles that went on to characterize much of the 1980s. 

Yves Saint Laurent safari jackets

He was the first French couturier to come out with a full ready to wear line, which he called Rive Gauche. Catherine Deneuve was his first customer to his newly opened store in 1966. He went on to design costumes for many of her movies. 

In 1983, Saint Laurent became the first living fashion designer to be honoured by the Met museum with a solo exhibition. 

YSL Mondrian dress 1965

Saint-Laurent was often seen in clubs such as New York’s Studio 54. He was a heavy drinker and user of cocaine and acid. At some shows, he could barely walk down the runway at the end of the show, and had to be supported by his models. By the mid to late 1980s, the press began to dismiss his collections as boring and cited that he had lost his inventiveness. 

Saint Laurent retired in 2002 and became increasingly reclusive. He died on 1 June 2008 of brain cancer at his residence in Paris. His doctor had told his partner, Bergés, that Yves was terminal but elected to keep the information from Yves as they didn’t think he would have coped with the knowledge.

The story of his life was made into a film and released in 2014, simply titled ‘Yves Saint Laurent’.

We have some great YSL items in the shop. Click any photo below to go to the product page (unless sold out). 

Blue bolero jacket with soutache embroidery:

Black print balloon sleeve dress: 

Green pleated wool skirt:

Blue pleated trousers:

Yves Saint Laurent ysl blue 80s trousers

Rive Gauche red pattern skirt:

Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche Printed Wool Challis Maxi Skirt

Wool challis skirt suit:

80s Vintage Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche Wool Challis Skirt Suit

Black blazer with rhinestone rose buttons: 

Vintage 80s Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche Blazer, Rhinestone Rose Buttons

Grey-green wool two-piece suit:

1980s Vintage Grey-Green Yves Saint Laurent Wool Flannel 2-Piece Suit, YSL, 40R


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