Designer Yves Saint Laurent lived the true aesthete’s life, exemplified in both his work and his personal style.
Since his death from brain cancer in 2008 the reputation of Yves Saint Laurent as one of the greatest and most influential fashion designers of the 20th Century continues to grow.
Strangely for the man who created the Mondrian-print shift dress, the Sharienne safari jacket and the Le Smoking trouser suit for women – cultural icons, as much as fashion ones – and who is the subject of two recent French bio-pics, there has been little written in memoriam about his own personal style.
Most regularly seen in immaculate suits, Saint Laurent’s dressing was classic in approach and, if nothing else, significant as a guide for modern men on how to get it right in terms of colour, texture and occasion.
He favoured dark suits in the years after he suddenly came to the helm at Dior in 1957 as a painfully shy 21-year-old soon to be diagnosed with manic depression. “He was an ugly, ungainly, overgrown boy with thick glasses, and so horribly shy he couldn’t take his eyes off the floor,” wrote a Women’s Wear Daily correspondent at the time.
After a famous false start accompanied by a mental breakdown, Saint Laurent’s accomplishments and fame grew through the 1960s. Running with the international jetset, clubbing and leaning heavily on alcohol and cocaine, his dark suits began to give way to more leisurely and loose silk shirts, suede jackets, leather trenchcoats, light-coloured suits and some crazy kaftans.
Back in his professional sphere in Paris, with his famous thick black-rimmed spectacles and his full head of swept-back, side-parted hair, Yves once again became the slickly besuited creature who carried all before him in the 1970s and into the early 1980s. His impeccable understanding of colour ensured his suit-shirt-tie-pocket square combinations were always just so. Later on, when he became a semi-recluse from society and put on a lot of weight, the dark suits he’d favoured at the start of his career made an almost funereal return.
It’s ironic, therefore, of a man who said he “loved clothing, but hated fashion” that the style statement he’s perhaps most famous for was his “nuding up” for photographer Jeanloup Sieff to promote his first men’s fragrance in 1971. “I want to create a scandal,” were his accurate, successfully executed instructions.