All about Yves
Yves Saint Laurent is recognised as one of the most influential designers of the 20th Century, the 1960's and 70's poster boy of Haute Couture. He was born in North Africa in 1936 of French Algerian parentage, and the sights, colours and culture of North Africa provided unending inspiration to him and made him open to so many different cultural influences in his eclectic collections.
He had been a protege of Christian Dior, hired as his assistant in 1957, and by the end of the fifties he was designing most of Dior's costume jewellery. He was Dior's designated successor as head designer at Dior, which he unexpectedly became at the tender age of 21 with Dior's early and unexpected death in 1957. His first collection for Dior as head designer was hailed a triumph. He was conscripted into military service in 1960 but the stress led him to being admitted to hospital with a nervous breakdown, and his condition was made worse by his being sacked by Dior. His treatment included electro shock therapy and Saint Laurent blamed this period in hospital for his later problems with drugs and mental health issues.
After a period of recuperation he established his own fashion house in 1961with the help of his then partner Pierre Berge who provided the young designer with the financing that enabled him to be independent. He quickly became one of the most influential designers in Paris and in the 1960's and 1970's he was famed for introducing daring innovations such as the safari suit, Le smoking (tuxedo) and the trouser suit, both in 1966, thigh high boots, see-through blouses and clothes with ethnic influences such as the Russian peasant blouse in his Ballet Russes collection of 1976. These design influences are so ubiquitous now that it is difficult to imagine the profound impact not to say shock that Saint Laurent's now iconic designs had at the time. Women's fashion would never be the same!
In 1966 he was the first coutourier to introduce a ready to wear collection - Rive Gauche - which was sensationally popular. While his day clothes had a rather masculine aesthetic, his evening wear seemed to incorporate a touch of fantasy.
He introduced jewellery to his couture collections and runway shows from their inception, his first collection in 1962 featuring some notable jet pieces. Jewellery and accessories have continued to be an essential element of the Yves Saint Laurent look.
YSL jet necklace 1962
He used the services of some of the greatest jewellery designers around, including Goossens and Schemama. One of his most memorable collections was 'Africa' in 1967, incorporating Massai inspired necklaces and bracelets with beads and pearls which complemented the amazing clothes perfectly.
He was the first to incorporate styles from tribal cultures into haute couture and jewellery, and in this he profoundly influenced a number of later designers.
He exhibited an exotic, exuberant, extravagant and colourful style in his jewellery, as contrasted with the studied classicism of Chanel, and was prepared to use modern and natural materials and revolutionary styles. He used shells, leather, amber (winter 91/92), natural stones, rock crystal, wood/stone combinations, bakelite and feathers.
He also produced some wonderfully rich pieces - heavy gold plated necklaces and matching bracelets, some in a crumpled gold metal style.
Highly influential was the designer-cum-muse Loulou de la Falaise who joined the firm in 1972 and became Saint Laurent's confidante. She wrote that their relationship was based on 'the many tastes that we share, for ethnic jewellery, paste, and the hyper-extravagance of glass jewellery'. Loulou de la Falaise was responsible for accessories and she was always striving to produce some surprising twist or innovation to each season's look, and YSL seems to have enjoyed such surprises - he loved innovation and creativity. Goldfish earrings appeared in the summer of 1996, cut-out metal rams and birds appeared in 1993 winter collection. To view our collection of Yves Saint Laurent jewellery, including some of the pieces illustrated on this page please click here for vintage yves Saint laurent jewellery.
The Saint Laurent couture house closed in 2002 with Yves Saint Laurent's retirement. He had already relinquished design responsibility at the Rive Gauche label in 1998.The strain of producing two collections a year for the couture market were proving too much for Saint Laurent. The designer Tom Ford took over. Yves Saint Laurent died from cancer in Paris 6 years later.