Tag Archives: Yves Saint Laurent

The Trickle-down Effect

I don’t believe in trickle-down economics, but I do believe in trickle-down fashion.  In his fall, 1965 collection, Yves Saint Laurent included six dresses that were an hommage to artist Mondrian.  One of the dresses was on the cover of French Vogue in September 1965, and by February there was a sewing pattern available from Vogue patterns.  None of that is surprising, but what is a bit of a revelation is how quickly this dress made it to the mass market.

All of the items in today’s post are from the spring and summer 1966 JC Penney catalog.  This was a catalog that was in homes by the beginning of the season, and so was surely in the works before the end of 1965.  The decision to knock-off the idea must have been made soon after the styles were first shown.

Not only were the styles directly copied, they were also adapted to other garments like tops and skirts, and different colorways were used, apart from the primary colors plus black and white seen in the Yves Saint Laurent originals.

There were even styles for little girls, including accessories.  What about that handbag, and those sunglasses, and that triangle scarf?  A fifth grader was less than nine dollars away from a couture look costing thousands.

 

The Mondrian dress was available in sizes as small as a little girl’s three.

Some of the ad copy referenced Mondrian, while others did not.  Yves Saint Laurent was not mentioned, of course, but some of the copy did mention that this was a look straight from Paris.

It would be interesting to actually see one of these dresses and to examine how it was made.  The YSL originals were pieced, but I suspect these were made from fabric that was printed with the color-blocking, or maybe even with the color blocks and black stripes applied on top of the white base.  At $6 for a woman’s dress and $3.90 for the child’s, it does not seem possible that the time intensive process of piecing would have been feasible.

The trend was short lived.  There were no Mondrian/Saint Laurent designs in the fall winter 1966 JC Penney catalog, and none the following spring either.  If you were to find a vintage ready-to-wear dress of this style, I think it’s pretty safe to say it would be from 1966.

I’ve got to wonder if women wanted to continue wearing these dresses, seeing as how they were so connected to one specific season.  I’m pretty sure that anyone who made the Vogue version wouldn’t have easily given it up, as the pattern was pieced, and was quite difficult to make.  But at $6, I’m betting a lot of the mass market models went straight to the back of the closet.

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What I Didn’t Buy – Chopped Saint Laurent Rive Gauche Dress

We laughingly call the Goodwill Clearance Center, “The Dig” for reasons that would be obvious if you have ever visited one of these centers.  Everything is piled high in huge bins, and one must dig for the treasure.  Sometimes I want to call the place “The Heartbreak” as was the instance this week when I pulled the above garment from a pile of Forever 21 and Kathie Lee.

This was a dress from Rive Gauche, which was Yves Saint Laurent’s boutique ready-to-wear line.  I say was a dress because someone had chopped off the bottom one third and left the unfinished “up-cycling” project to be put in their donate pile.  I was attracted to the fine wool plaid and was pleased to see the label.

I will say straight out that I am not an expert, or even a novice when it comes to knowing the various lines that Saint Laurent designed over his long career.  Something about the braid and the brass buttons were slightly reminiscent of his famous 1976 Russian Ballet collection, but the plaid was not.  Because of the damage, I decided not to buy the poor mutilated thing, but I was intrigued and wanted to find out more about how Saint Laurent developed his ready-to-wear collections as compared to his couture.

When it comes to a designer who does both couture and ready-to-wear, the relationship is often thought to be one of the couture being developed first, and then the next season’s ready-to-wear is often based on the ideas of the couture.  I had that in mind when looking at this piece.  But after reading about how Saint Laurent actually worked, I realized that he did it the other way around.  Rive Gauche was like an experimental workshop, and the clothes made for the boutique were often developed into the grand ideas of the couture.

Could some of the ideas seen on this dress gone on to be further developed as the Russian collection?  I’m sure I cannot say, but it points out a valuable lesson.  A garment does not have to be couture to be significant.  I think that was shown very well in the recent Museum at FIT exhibition, Yves Saint Laurent + Halston: Fashioning the ’70s where many of the garments on display were actually Rive Gauche, and not Yves Saint Laurent couture.

I like this photo because it shows the reverse side of the fabric.  Even though Rive Gauche was ready-to-wear, it was high-end and expensive.  This was a very nice, finely woven wool plaid.

I have said this before, but to to remind all the DIYers out there:  Think before you cut.

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Currently Viewing: Yves Saint Laurent

Last year two competing movies about the life of designer Yves Saint Laurent were released.   One of them, Yves Saint Laurent was recently added to Netflix, and so I finally got to see it.  To be honest, I was not all that eager to see the film, as YSL – the man, not the designer – seriously depresses me.  After sitting through a documentary that was filmed before his death, I’d vowed to never sit through two hours of Yves ever again.

But I broke my promise,and I’ve got to say that this movie was a very mixed bag.  First, I’ll give you the good news.  Because Pierre Bergé, Saint Laurent’s longtime lover and business partner, and the  president of the Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent Foundation, was involved with this film, the makers had access to the YSL archive, including the actual clothing.  Much of what is shown in the fashion show sequences is thus the real deal, and it shows.

Unfortunately, there was just not much that could be done to make Saint Laurent a more sympathetic or likable character.  Not that he is shown as unlikable, it is just that all the drugs and poor choices combined with the poor, fragile persona that he projected make the depiction of him hard to watch.

It helps to know a bit about Saint Laurent’s life, as the movie is fast-paced, and it is in French with sub-titles.  It seemed to me that it would have been hard to follow had I not already known much of the story.

So, would I recommend Yves Saint Laurent?  Yes, but only for the look at those fabulous clothes in action.  Otherwise, unless you love watching a talented and creative man self-destruct, give it a pass.

 

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Exhibition Journal – Yves Saint Laurent + Halston

Back in February I was lucky to see this exhibition at FIT, Yves Saint Laurent + Halston: Fashioning the ’70s.  I usually like to take my exhibition journal and do drawings on site, but in some cases that is just not possible.  For this trip I didn’t even take the journal with me, as baggage was tight.  Also, I knew that I could depend on FIT to provide excellent brochures about each exhibition.

I was glad that I had decided not to try and sketch.  I had two friends with me, and sketching takes time.  And there is so much to do in New York and we had so much to see.  But the big reason I decided not to try sketching on site was because the Museum at FIT is always very busy.  People are constantly moving around the exhibits and it is hard for me to concentrate with so much activity.  One gallery has seats which are nice for drawers, but others do not, and I can’t draw standing.

So instead I took lots of photos of the details, planning to do my sketches later.  That didn’t happen though, as I just had so much going on in my head with all the other excitement from the trip.  So I decided to rely on the materials provided by FIT.  Because of that, this journal entry focuses more on what the curators wanted me to take from the exhibition rather than my own observations.  That’s not ideal, but sometimes it just has to be that way.

Probably the biggest takeaway from this exhibition is how time gives a clearer vision as to the zeitgeist of an era.   In the 1970s I don’t think many people would have been able to look at the work of Saint Laurent and of Halston and see how they were both pulling from similar influences.  At the time the differences overshadowed the similarities.

But using that marvelous tool called hindsight, we can step out of the era to see where both designers were influenced by the same things.  It was their approach that was different.

I’ve heard the 1970s referred to as “the decade that taste forgot.”  I think this exhibition can put that line to rest.

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Yves Saint Laurent + Halston: Fashioning the ’70s at the Museum at FIT

One of the highlights of any visit to New York is a visit to the Museum at FIT.  This past trip was no exception with the two shows they had going being not only beautiful, but thought-provoking.

Yves Saint Laurent + Halston: Fashioning the ’70s is the first exhibition that has ever focused just on these two giants of the 1970s.  I came of age in the 1970s, and I’ve been well-acquainted with the work of both designers for over 45 years.    But it was a revelation seeing their work side by side.  It seems that the clean modernist (Halston) and the romantic historian (YSL) had a lot more in common than is at first apparent.

Because the museum’s holding of both designers is extensive, there was a lot of material for the curators to work with.  They were able to look at the clothes with an eye for how each interpreted a certain theme.  This approach reveals not only how the two designers were different, it also points out some startling likenesses.

One of the games that people are playing with this exhibition is “Guess Who?”  Instead of immediately reading the notes on each garment, people were trying to guess which was the YSL and which the Halston.  It was a fun exercise, though in most cases there were little details that gave the answer away if one was fairly familiar with both designers’ work.  In the top photo, the ensemble on the left is by Halston, and the one on the right is Saint Laurent.

Can you guess which is the Halston and which is the YSL?  It probably would help to know that Halston worked mainly in solid colors, so the dress on the right is his.

Can you see the tiny hems on these layers of chiffon?  The workmanship that came out of Halston’s workrooms really astounded me.  Someone described Halston’s designs as simple clothes that were expensive.  Add to that description that they were made from top quality fabrics by highly skilled sewers.

One of the themes that the exhibition explored was how each designer was influenced by menswear.  Much has been written of Yves Saint Laurent’s appropriation of menswear, especially in the famous Le Smoking, or tuxedo suit for women.  He also did tailored suits in the style of 1930s or 40s men’s suits, seen above in blue pinstripes.

Halston’s use of menswear was much more subtle, but no less influential.  In his hands the man’s shirt was elongated and narrowed into a flattering shirtdress.

Another theme of the exhibition was how each designer used the “exotic” in their designs.  This was quite easy to see in the work of YSL, as he was known for using all kinds of cultural influences in his work.  Whole collections were designed around Russia or China.  In his hands the word “peasant” took on a whole new meaning.

Halston’s use of the exotic often was expressed in the form of caftans and pajama set with capes.  These great tie-dyed pajamas date from 1970, and the red caftan is from 1972.  The set on the left and the caftan are from the wardrobe of Lauren Bacall, who donated 700 items to FIT while she was still alive.

And finally, the exhibition looked at how both designers used historical references in their work.  Again, Saint Laurent was much more literal in his use of historic fashion.  His clothes often contain references to the work of Chanel, and he was especially fond of paying homage to the 1930s and early 40s.

Halston paid his respects to the past in his use of the bias cut in the manner of Vionnet.

And in his hands the cashmere twin set of the 1950s became luxurious (and warm) evening wear.

In taking in this exhibition, and I had to see it twice, I was struck at how my own sense of style was shaped by these two designers.  I was fifteen in 1970, and so these were the years that I was really into fashion.  Many of the shapes and designs in the exhibition have been in my own closet through the years, and I still love a fitted sweater over slacks and a good bomber jacket.

In the late 1970s I made a dress that was very similar to the Halston on the left (are those Warhol flowers?) to wear to work, and I would have worn the YSL on the right as well, given the chance.  I still have a shirtdress in my closet, and I’m seriously thinking of making one in gingham.  Hey, if it was good enough for Lauren Bacall, why not?

This exhibition is in the basement gallery, which I love.  The display space is large and is arranged in a non-linear way so that rambling and contemplation is encouraged.  The clothes are arranged so that most of them can be seen from more than one angle.  In the hallway there is a timeline of the careers of both designers.  It is very helpful in tying it all together, and as a special treat, it’s online.

And I want to say a special thanks to the museum for allowing photos.  This is the first time I’ve ever been to an exhibition there where photos were allowed.  I hope it leads to a loosening of the no-photo policy.

Yves Saint Laurent + Halston: Fashioning the 70s was organized and curated by Patricia Mears and Emma McClendon.  It is open until April 18, 2015.

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Currently Viewing – Yves Saint Laurent: The Movie


I know I don’t post here very often about Haute Couture or high fashion, but that does not mean I’m not interested.  It’s just that lives like YSL’s are well documented elsewhere and so I spend my energies on the more obscure elements of fashion.  But I do love reading and learning about the fashion greats, so I got this DVD from Netflix last week.

There are actually two segments, and I made the mistake of watching His Life and Times first.  This was a segment where Saint Laurent sat and reminisced about how sad he was, about how stressful and downright frightening designing is, about where had the years gone…  In short, it was depressing.

I put off returning the DVD, thinking I might attempt the second segment, 5 Avenue Marceau 75116 Paris, which was the address of Saint Laurent’s house of couture, and which is now Foundation Yves Saint Laurent, a museum which houses the vast YSL archive. I’m glad I gave it a chance because this was a delightful look into the working of a couture house in 2000, just two years before he retired.Look at the photograph on the DVD and you can get a glimpse of how the work progressed.  The model is wearing a muslin mock-up made by the cutters and master sewers, based purely on a sketch drawn by Saint Laurent.  The rolls of fabric that have been chosen for the collection are scattered about the room, and the workers shape and drape lengths of them to show how the design would look in the prints or color.  Saint Laurent and his assistants then studied the look, made changes, additions, or scraped the number altogether. It’s a very revealing look into how couture is created, and is very similar to the way Karl Lagerfeld works at Chanel.  You can see even more of the inner workings at Chanel by watching the Signe Chanel series, which is on YouTube.

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