The Fashion of Yves Saint Laurent: Prolific Artist and Revolutionary Anarchist

“Liberty and equality are not achieved by wearing breeches- they are a state of mind.” -Yves Saint Laurent, Yves Saint Laurent Style.

Yves Saint Laurent, born in 1936, was a French fashion designer who is remembered for reviving and repopularizing couture fashion in the late 1960s. Saint Laurent worked under Christian Dior and the Dior house for a myriad of years, until he became the owner of his own namesake couture fashion house alongside Pierre Bergé. The Yves Saint Laurent couture fashion designs of 1967 were refined and elegant. They created ensembles for stereotypically feminine women who traditionally wore mid-length or longer skirts, extravagant hats, and dainty white gloves.

Women in Couture Fashion of 1967.  British Pathe Video. St. Laurent Fashions. Paris, France, 1967.

Saint Laurent’s iconic 1968 Spring-Summer collection was a reinvention of himself and of the entire fashion industry, with it being the “synthesis of everything he believed for now and for the future” of women (Drake 63). Inspired by the May 1968 French radical social revolt from people of all ages against the Paris Communist party,  Saint Laurent staged his own rebellion against the beauty standards that had been set in years prior. Yves Saint Laurent’s 1968 Spring-Summer line was revolutionary. This collection was the pinnacle of former couturier’s career: his debut of all-in-one jumpsuits, safari jackets, and transparent tops gracing the runway. Saint Laurent “expressed the concentrated essence of Saint Laurent style with an assurance and sensuality that was astounding…and in doing so he left behind the idea of fashion as trend” (Drake 63).

The design for the May 1968 showstopper: the Piece de Resistance. A sheer black chiffon dress with an ostrich feather bottom. Musee Yves Saint Laurent Paris. 1968.

Yves Saint Laurent’s Spring-Summer line was reflective of the ongoing era  through his use of somber blacks and dark browns in the entire collection. He noted the youth outside of his window in Paris during the riots of 1968 and the outfits they wore as influence for his collection. The 1968 ready-to-wear line was Saint Laurent’s “mourning for Vietnam” (Madsen 162). He used his designs to show his distress towards the ongoing wars and to express his unvoiced ideas of change and liberation.

Saint Laurent’s contributions towards the fashion community greatly aided the women’s liberation movement in the 1960s, allowing women to have the means to be free from the strictures and societal pressures to be stereotypically feminine. The line comprised of androgynous fashion that stretched the confines of gender expectation. The garments contributed to the authenticity of the individual, increased self-expression, and gave a voice to women and what they desired to be.

The statement pieces from the 1968 Spring-Summer collection were radical and challenged the power dynamic between men and women. Women ditched wearing the delicate white gloves and flamboyant hats for simplistic menswear-inspired pieces and provocative and revealing tops. The all-in-one jumpsuit disguised the slender silhouette of women that was once so heavily emphasized and ended the constrictions and expectations of gendered attire. The notable jumpsuit was not intended to be a sign of equality between genders, but was instead intended to be seen as a sign of women publically asserting their sexuality and their own power, while the revealing sheer chiffon and organza tops were created as a mode of expressing a newfound femininity for women of the 1960s. Femininty was now unisex and non-conforming.

Yves Saint Laurent’s 1968 collection is remembered for its immense effect on the fashion industry. Fashion became more accessible through exclusive couture designs becoming mass produced ready-to-wear pieces. Saint Laurent’s ready-to-wear designs were made for the youth and those past their youth. The prominance of Saint Laurent’s fashion influenced other businesses and couturiers to began to tailor more towards the youth audience.

The invention of the female pantsuit, tuxedo jacket, and jumpsuit are all accredited to Saint Laurent, due to his success in popularizing the articles of clothing in the fashion market. Although he was not the first to create androgenous garments, the easy accessibility to his pieces, around the time they were debuted, influenced the widespread trend. The trends empowered women in the 1960s towards the fight for feminism, and they continue to do so in the present day as well.

Sleek Black Jumpsuit. Musee Yves Saint Laurent Paris. 1968.

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4 thoughts on “The Fashion of Yves Saint Laurent: Prolific Artist and Revolutionary Anarchist”

  1. This topic is so fascinating! You did a really nice job connecting Yves Saint Laurent’s designs to the social climate of that epoch. Specifically, you description of his art clearly portrays his expression of contempt for the chaos of the Paris riots and anguish for the Vietnam War. I am a great admirer of fashion and have visited expositions of Yves Saint Laurent’s and Dior’s designs. Many people, unfortunately, do not see fashion as an art and fail to realize its social and political impact. This post effectively explains how Yves Saint Laurent utilized his androgynous clothing, including the jumpsuit (although his design of the first woman pantsuit was not mentioned), to promote woman liberation and power. I think this post could be strengthened by interpreting how/why women wear these styles today and if these designs represent feminism and rebellion in the same way they did in 1968.

  2. It was really interesting to read how the style of the years are connected to the social atmosphere and how fashion has been used to make a statement in social norms. It is an amazing topic to work with and you presented a very good understanding in terms of connecting the fashion designs with women movements.

  3. I was initially drawn to this post because I know the brand is still popular today, but I had no idea of the impact it had in 1968. I think it says a lot about him as a designer that his work can last throughout the ages. We are still able to see his impact today, and this post did a great job of explaining that. The post is fine as it is, but I think the next step would be to see if these styles have been recycled in modern times by other designers that are wishing to make an impact as well. Good job overall!

  4. This may be one of the best posts on the site simply because of how unique it is. I would have never expected such a big brand in the modern fashion world such as YSL to have made a difference in 1968. Also, I like how you made live links on your post so it gives easy access to many people.

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