Yves Saint Laurent: the epitome of French fashion elegance

The history of French fashion is full of creative designers and avant-garde couturiers. In recent years, though, one name stands out – a designer who literally revolutionised modern women's fashion.

Born in 1936 in Oran, Yves Saint Laurent spent his childhood in Algeria where his mother introduced him to the world of fashion and design at an early age.  His first designs were created for his two sisters. At age 19, after attending the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture in Paris, Saint Laurent was introduced, through the director of Vogue France, to Christian Dior who hired him as an assistant in what was arguably Paris’ most famous fashion house.  On Dior's death, two years later, Yves Saint Laurent became head of artistic direction of the brand. He was then aged just 21. His first collection, "Keystone", was an incredible success and propelled Saint Laurent to the forefront of the art scene.  He never left.

After completing 20 days of military service where he sank into depression, Saint Laurent was admitted to a psychiatric hospital, and was, in consequence, fired by Dior.  Undaunted, he opened his own fashion house with Pierre Bergé, his friend and partner, and presented the first collection in his own name in 1962.  It is in the 1960’s that Saint Laurent really began to come to the attention of the fashion world and created the almost legendary collections that broke the mould of women's fashion.  Notable innovations included the famous female tuxedo, the pantsuit, the Sahara, the pea coat and trench coat.  In order to democratize access to his creations, Saint Laurent opened his first ready-to-wear shop in 1967, the first ever associated with the name of a great couturier.   It was an immediate and spectacular success and inspired many imitators across Europe and around the world.

Since its inception in 1950, the house of Saint Laurent has worked with community theatre and film makers for which he has created numerous costumes.  It was through his work in the arts that he met some of his muses, such as Zizi Jeanmaire and Catherine Deneuve.  Art has always been a source of inspiration for Saint Laurent.  In 1965, he launched his range of Mondrian dresses in honour of the Dutch painter.  This collection was followed by dresses inspired by Picasso, Van Gogh and Matisse.  His personal art collection is also quite remarkable.  A part of this was auctioned following the death of Saint Laurent in 2008 by his companion Pierre Bergé raising more than $30 million.   Even today, the brand associated with the name Saint Laurent, combining clothes, shoes and perfumes, continues to be a symbol of class and French elegance around the world.