Yves Saint Laurent is regarded as one of the foremost fashion designers of the 20th century. More so than other traditional French couturiers, he was in touch with 1960s-70s street culture and was adept at evolving his style, occasionally borrowing from menswear to create comfortable, elegant clothing for more liberated times. To honor his work, two museums devoted to the French designer’s 40-year career will open this fall: one in his former couture house in Paris, and one in the Jardin Majorelle in Marrakech. Collectively, they will house around 5,000 haute couture garments, 15,000 accessories, thousands of drawings, collection boards and photographs.
Today, Yves Saint Laurent’s groundbreaking work continues to inspire and although unique, his garments maintain a timeless quality. In this article, we take a look at this iconic designer and the looks available in the market today.
Early Beginnings and Signature Designs
Born in 1936, Saint Laurent was a gifted child, winning first prize for a cocktail dress he designed at only 17. He started as an assistant designer with Dior in 1955. Soon after, the house spotted his creative potential with one of his first designs, marvelously captured by photographer Richard Avedon that same year. Given his recognized skill, it was a natural move for the house to choose the young designer as Christian Dior’s successor following his death in 1957.
The Trapeze Collection
His first collection ‘Trapeze,’ generally classified by a narrow fit at the shoulders and a wide, swinging hemline, was a huge success and combined haute couture with foresight into the new silhouettes of the 1960s.
The Beat Collection
His next collections, a total of six lines of haute couture, received mixed reviews. His last collection for Dior, ‘Beat’ A/W 1960, featured knit turtlenecks and leather jackets embossed with a crocodile pattern. The house was not ready for Saint Laurent’s interest in a younger clientele and the adoption of street style, and subsequently replaced him with Marc Bohan.
A New Direction
Determined to dress the modern woman, Saint Laurent set out to launch his own label in 1962. This move marked new changes in fashion, and he subsequently become one of the era’s most experimental and groundbreaking designers. His sources of inspiration were endless, from works of art, Africa and safaris, to Russia, menswear and folk, among others. The following is a brief selection of some of his most iconic looks.
Drawing inspiration from recognizable works of art and artistic movements, both the ‘Mondrian’ and the ‘Pop Art’ dress (from A/W 1965 and F/W 1966 collections, respectively) successfully integrated elements of art and design.
The ‘Smoking’ jacket, still a signature look in Saint Laurent’s collections, was first shown in his A/W 1966 collection.
Sensitive to new trends and demand from younger clientele, Saint Laurent opened a pret-a-porter line called Rive Gauche in 1966, and became one of the first couturiers selling ready-to-wear. In 1967, he presented his African collection, incorporating motifs from African art into fashion, a popular trend in the 1970s.
In 1968 he introduced the iconic Safari jacket, and the jumpsuit appeared alongside the first sheer pieces, t-shirt dresses, and shorts.
Starting in the early 1960s, Saint Laurent also designed costumes for the theater, ballet, television, and film industries.
Saint Laurent eventually retired in 2002, closing the couture atelier. American fashion designer Tom Ford took over the Rive Gauche line, which is currently run by Italian-Belgian designer Anthony Vaccarello. Saint Laurent died in 2008, but his enormous influence is still present in fashion today.
Collecting YSL Today
When collecting Yves Saint Laurent garments, there are key signature items to seek out. Most certainly, the original haute couture designs by the man himself hold the most value, but recent interpretations by his successors at the house are also worth considering for future investment. Other items that perform well at auction include:
The designer’s pieces were immortalized through several iconic 20th century images; some of the most notable examples include German-Australian photographer Helmut Newton’s image featuring the Le Smoking jacket in 1975 and Italian photographer Franco Rubartelli’s 1968 image of model Veruschka wearing garments from the Safari collection. Photography of the designer himself as a celebrated personality and socialite also garners interest among collectors.
As with most items at auction, items with strong provenance tend to hold more value. Yves Saint Laurent designed for some of the most prominent women of his time, including a couture piece for fashion writer (and former editor-in-chief of “Vogue” magazine) Diana Vreeland.
His most famous muse during the 1960s to 1970s was French icon (and fellow designer) Loulou de La Falaise, who inspired Saint Laurent’s 1966 women’s “Le Smoking” tuxedo and his sheer blouses. This piece, although produced much later, was part of her private collection and her association with the designer undoubtedly makes the garment more attractive to collectors.
How to Spot a Counterfeit YSL Piece
Sourcing garments from a reputable auction house or dealer is always a sure way to find authentic pieces. Here are a few key tips for spotting counterfeits:
- Authentic bags have embossed serial numbers on the inside of the bag. The YSL label on the inside of the bag is never smudged and always evenly aligned, with “Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche” always spelled in full, and correctly.
- Although Hedi Slimane changed the brand to “Saint Laurent” in 2012, making it easier to identify the era in terms of clothing, the bags still bear the original YSL logo.
- When in doubt, try to compare images of the item to magazine articles, major retailers, the official YSL website, or the museum website for older pieces.
- With recent Saint Laurent pieces, the material of the tag should be very thin but sturdy, with a slightly waxed matte effect. Numbers and composition of the garment are written in white and will not fade over time.
- Check the fabric and print quality of the tag and the positioning of the codes.
- The production code should show the year for the production, and not the collection release.
Tips for Storage and Preserving Condition
Below are key tips to preserve the condition of your Yves Saint Laurent garments:
- Use padded hangers with the right shoulder width. If garments are too heavy, delicate or knitted, store them in a box with acid-free tissue paper, avoiding folds and creases.
- Avoid anything that might puncture a hole or pull a thread.
- After you have worn your garment, do not fold it right away, instead, leave it breathing overnight.
- Keep the shape of bags and shoes by stuffing them with acid-free tissue paper and stored in their original box, if possible. Be careful not to over-stuff them.
- Pay attention to humidity, temperature, infestations and dust.
Looking for more designer pieces? Explore Fashion, Jewelry & Luxury Accessories at Auktionshaus Eppli on September 9, Designer Handbags & Fashion at Chiswick Auctions on September 26, and pieces available for immediate purchase via Opulence Unlimited.
About Fiona McKay & Xenia Capacete
Fiona and Xenia are fashion curators and exhibit makers, and founders of White Line Projects, a curatorial and creative studio based in London. White Line Projects curates, designs, and produces a diverse range of outcomes including exhibitions, installations and digital experiences, and websites for a wide range of clients in the fashion and cultural sectors. Fiona, Xenia, and the team at White Line Projects bring a diverse combination of skills and background experience ranging from visual communications and 3D technologies to architecture, art history, and exhibition design to theater design and performing arts.