French fashion icon Yves Saint Laurent loses battle with cancer and dies at home in Paris
Pierre Berge, Yves Saint Laurent’s friend, longtime romantic companion and 40-year business partner and creative collaborator, spoke about Saint Laurent on France-Info radio. He extolled Yves Saint Laurent as a true creative artist whose clothes empowered women and made a social statement. “He transformed society and he transformed women.” Berge, on France 2 TV, remarked further that Saint Laurent was careful to use fashion to serve women and not exploit them.
The Gucci Group, which acquired the Yves Saint Laurent fashion house in 1999, made an official statement, saying that the fashion icon Saint Laurent’s death left a great void but also a great legacy. Speaking of Saint Laurent, Gucci said, “This creative genius shattered the codes to create French elegance which today makes Paris a grand capital of fashion.”
President of France Nicolas Sarkozy and his wife, former model Carla Bruni both praised Saint Laurent. Bruni, who knew Saint Laurent personally and had modelled his fashions, particularly mourned his passing. “He was an exceptional artist and human being,” she said. Sarkozy lauded Saint Laurent’s contribution to half a century of French fashion. Saint Laurent was among the last of a generation that included Christian Dior and Coco Chanel, who helped make Paris the world’s fashion hub, and who made high fashion at once more accessible and more “important” as a statement. The designer created instant classics that remain in vogue today, from the tuxedo re-imagined for women to safari jackets and of course the gowns that grace red carpets at every Oscars and Cannes show.
Saint Laurent was born Aug. 1, 1936, in Algeria, He displayed early promise at age 17, winning a contest for a cocktail dress design. A year later, in 1954, he enrolled in fashion school, but Christian Dior spotted him three months into his education. Dior was so impressed with Saint Laurent that he plucked him out of school and hired him to work at his fashion house. Yves Saint Laurent took the helm of House of Dior at only 21, when Dior died. He worked there until he opened his own haute couture fashion house with Berge in 1962. Many of Yves Saint Laurent’s most enduring signature designs that were launched in the 1960s such as tuxedo jackets, pantsuits, black leather jackets and boots, showed that women could wear “men’s clothes,” and be even more feminine. This was a new idea in its day, and women wearing pants were not always welcome in restaurants and other public places, so Saint Laurent’s designs were seen as an act of feminism and defiance. In 1983, the Metropolitan Museum of Art gave Saint Laurent another first, when it exhibited Yves Saint Laurent’s work as art. Saint Laurent was awarded the highest honor in France, the Legion d’Honneur, which is France’s equivalent of knighthood, in 1985. Saint Laurent announced his retirement in 2002 at age 65. At his death, Saint Laurent had had brain cancer for the past year, while his illness so far had been confined to rumor.A funeral ceremony is scheduled for Thursday at the Eglise Saint Roch in Paris, and is expected to be attended by an international who’s who of fashion, political and artistic luminaries.
Yves Saint Laurent once said he felt “fashion was not only supposed to make women beautiful, but to reassure them, to give them confidence, to allow them to come to terms with themselves.” In this he was truly ahead of his time, not just in France or in fashion, but in the world’s view of the role of women in society. Designers today both in France and around the world who speak of empowering women owe a debt to Yves Saint Laurent, who pioneered this view of fashion’s role in women’s lives and psyches.
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