Yves Saint Laurent would have been 80 years old this week. Before his death from brain cancer in 2008, the legendary Algerian-born fashion designer led a whirlwind of a life: head designer at Dior by 21, conscripted to serve in the French army at the age of 24, and the first couturier to release a ready-to-wear line in 1966.
YSL was, according to his business partner and lover Pierre Bergé, a manic-depressive, alcoholic drug user. He was also fiercely intelligent, deeply charming, and one of the first prominent European fashion designers to promote women of colour as supermodels – championing as his muses women including Iman, Rebecca Ayoko and Katoucha Niane.
More than half a century after he started his fashion career, YSL’s iconic designs are still echoed on catwalks and in shops around the world. So if you fancy paying homage to the great man himself this week, look no further: we’ve picked the best YSL-inspired fashion to buy right now.
Art as fashion
St Laurent was a keen collector of modern and contemporary paintings, and one of his most successful collections was the one he sent down the runway in 1965: bold, striking, simple shift dresses inspired by modernist and abstract painters such as Pierre Mondrian, Serge Poliakoff and Kazimir Malevich.
Today, this fusion of art and fashion still resonates – and the original 1965 dresses, fittingly, hang in museums.
Second-wave feminism was in full swing when St Laurent unveiled what would be the most defining collection of his career, in August 1966 – yet it was still frowned upon for women to wear trousers as eveningwear. With the first incarnation of his iconic ‘Le Smoking’ tuxedo for women, YSL turned traditional ideas of femininity, power, and elegance on their head.
St Laurent himself attributed the tuxedo’s enduring appeal to the fact that it captured a mood, rather than a fashion. “For a woman, le smoking is an indispensable garment with which she finds herself continually in fashion, because it is about style, not fashion,” he said. “Fashions come and go, but style is forever.”
Clockwise from bottom left: patterned tailored trousers, £120, Reiss; double-breasted stretch-wool blazer, £295, Michael Michael Kors; coral slim tailored crepe jacket, £42, and ankle grazer cigarette trousers, £28, ASOS; printed soft tailored blazer, £59, Topshop; wide-leg fluid trousers, £119, Hobbs.
With his iconic 1968 Saharienne collection, YSL hit the sweet spot between functional and sexy: think a sun-kissed women in khaki cotton, with a rifle slung over her shoulder. Technically a tunic, his first safari jacket was just long enough for women to wear as a dress if they wanted (and they did).
Safari style has echoes today in ready-for-anything normcore dressing – as well as, conversely, the neutral-on-neutral colour palette favoured by the Kardashians et al.
Images: Getty, Wikimedia Commons