“The whole way, you do not waste your time: you do the sewing, décor of theatre, etc. You will be very useful, if not indispensable to know the cut.
I shake your hand,
Michel de Brunhoff.”
A translated excerpt from Vogue Editor-in-Chief to a young Yves Saint Laurent.
This letter, dated August 19, 1954, from Vogue’s Editor-in-chief, Brunhoff, was written to an 18-year old Yves Saint Laurent who was just starting out in the fashion industry. The powerful mogul sweetly explains that, in fact, Saint Laurent is not wasting his time applying to elite Parisian fashion schools. Little did either of them know that very soon, the young, shy boy would become an iconic, world-famous fashion designer.
The Seattle Art Museum (SAM) is currently featuring a must-see collection of Yves Saint Laurent, which shares the story of a timeless and legendary artist and man. With more than 100 garments and rare documents, the exhibition provides a behind-the-scenes look into the life of one of the world’s most celebrated designers.
Photographs and a biography take the viewer on a visually stunning journey from Saint Laurent’s childhood in the then-French colony of Oran, Algeria, to his near-immediate success in the fashion world. There are rough drawings and sketches, toiles—a preliminary garment made of white cotton, finished products, and images of fashion shoots and shows. All of these materials encompass the work that went into each outfit. Every garment is topped off with stylish accessories and unique, personal touches. This exhibit shows him as a true artist—a man who lived and breathed fashion—not just a designer.
At the entrance to the exhibition hall, paper dolls strike the eye first--beautiful outfits the teenager made to scale. This is the first time the paper dolls have been shown publicly in the U.S, and they symbolize his first noteworthy work, providing a crucial precursor to later success.
Another curatorial concept which stood out were depictions of Saint Laurent’s early idols—from classic painters to playwrights and actors of the time. These influential people, from Pablo Picasso to Jean Giraudoux, influenced his works, making them less like clothing and more like otherworldly, unique pieces of art. In 1957 after working as an assistant for Christian Dior, Saint Laurent became Artistic Director of the House of Dior. Upon Dior’s sudden death, he soon became widely known by the public.
Even if you aren’t very interested in fashion — which I usually am not — this is an influential and inspiring exhibit. I appreciated seeing pieces from Saint Laurent’s most successful collections, as well as his lesser-known creations. Saint Laurent experimented with a variety of cuts, colors, and designs, but his personal values and style remained consistent throughout his career. The exhibition is worth seeing, because along with breathtaking pieces of art, a common theme is represented: working hard towards your passions will take you a long way, and stay with you forever.
Yves Saint Laurent: The Perfection of Style runs Oct. 11 - Jan. 8 at the Seattle Art Museum.