Yves Saint Laurent

Six museums in Paris are pushing out the walls for him. Saint Laurent is on display. Chic!

Yves Saint Laurent is more than just the Le Smoking dinner jacket he has offered women since 1966. No fewer than six Parisian museums have chosen to take a fresh look at the man who revolutionised his era 60 years after his first haute couture show. 


You cannot imprison the sun, Yves Saint Laurent said. Museums have long been dream keepers-as they say of furniture storage units. The preserve of labels, catalogues, showcases, and academic displays. Stowing the freedom that others had envisioned experiencing and sharing away from locks and nut spinners. The creations certainly needed to be preserved, learnt from, and passed on. But obviously, you can’t imprison the sun, its light, and the universes it creates. 


Yves Saint Laurent (1936-2008) never stopped being a fugitive throughout his creative life. Even if the artistic graces patrol always caught up with him, taking malicious pleasure in slipping him into its catalogues and rubric: couturier, designer...  In Paris museum history, 2022 will bear the YSL label.  Under the benevolent wing of an anniversary: 60 years.  Sixty years ago- in the Rue Spontini on Paris’ Right Bank on 29 January 1962-a young genius aged 26, hidden behind thick-framed glasses and a white lab coat, assumed the Christian Dior sceptre by presenting his first fashion show and first collection. It was «intensely free and androgynous», stressed his companion and long-time business partner Pierre Bergé. Six Paris museums have developed the idea of 60 years of nuances of time, line drawing, and correspondence to explain how much Saint Laurent, intoxicated by the vibrancy of life, upset the big fashion house culture by offering «haute couture» with assertive design. We saw it during the breath-taking 40 years of couture creations display in the Stade de France on 12 July 1998, some two hours before the French team became world cup winners in football. 


Since then, more than two decades later, the museums have broken the locks: this year Centre Pompidou, Musée du Louvre, Musée d’Art Moderne de Paris, Musée d’Orsay, Musée National Picasso-Paris, and the Musée Yves Saint Laurent Paris have chosen to be both guardians and ferrymen. Until 15 May 2022, this Club des Six has chosen to tell the story that sculpting the most precious or least pretentious fabrics is both an art of excellence and proximity, without fuss. It lives in the clarity of the drawings that illuminate the women’s changing rooms-they didn’t call them «dressing rooms» in the 60s and 70s-which are both sumptuous and pretty.  We often speak of a «code» when talking about Yves Saint Laurent, a recognisable aesthetic code of cut, material, and influence.  Some even evoke the mark of a genius. Perhaps in the unexpected definition of Albert Einstein’s name, whose anagram reveals this incredible key: «Albert Einstein = nothing is established»... What the six Paris museum exhibitions reveal is that nothing is established with Saint Laurent either. Apart from the wait before the line, the cut, the whisper, the anxiety, the harmony of the whole.  


Fashion changed its status with him.  It led to the July Revolution, which settled a name, an art, a departure. Great craftsmanship and seduction gave way to imprinting the world’s vibrancy as well as its innocence in YSL collections.  Extraordinary. 1965: a reference of unprecedented technicality to Mondrian’s geometric painting. 1966: the legendary Le Smoking dinner jacket, which the most important international magazines in the fashion world have elevated to «timelessly chic fashion piece» status. 1967: the Saharan jacket, the luxury of sobriety. The clean silhouette. Direct. The line, the silhouette: it is a dialogue between scissors and brush. Invented by Saint Laurent with Pablo Picasso, Vincent van Gogh, Georges Braque, Henri Matisse, Fernand Léger, or Pierre Bonnard. From this spirit of freedom, the six Paris museums now draw not on the legitimacy of their commitment to Saint Laurent but an undeniable zest to convey what scissors and brush can say. 


The anniversary exhibition to mark the 60th anniversary of Yves Saint Laurent’s first fashion show.  See the websites of the museums taking part in the event:  Centre Pompidou, Musée du Louvre, Musée d’Art Moderne de Paris, Musée d’Orsay, Musée National Picasso-Paris, and Musée Yves Saint Laurent Paris. Until 15 May 2022.