Fashion lost one of its finest on June 1, when the legendary couturier Yves Saint Laurent, 71, died at his Paris home of brain cancer, according to his longtime business partner, Pierre Bergé. He had quite a life. From his celebrated entrée into design in 1957 at Dior, where, at age 21, he replaced the late Christian Dior, through his retirement in 2002, Saint Laurent hypnotized with his imaginative creations. An exacting sense of color, cut, exoticism and androgyny were his signatures, as was the infamously fragile constitution that led him to retreat from the fashion world altogether in his final years. Yet his influence remains strong—current designers such as Marc Jacobs, Miuccia Prada and Jean Paul Gaultier frequently reference Saint Laurent’s work in their own collections. Over the course of his 40-plus-year career, Saint Laurent regularly produced a legacy of instant classics (the trapeze dress, the safari jacket, the Mondrian shift and the eternally iconic le smoking) not to mention the concept of ready-to-wear, which he launched in 1966 with his Rive Gauche collection. Then there are those initials, three letters—YSL—that will forever be associated with the pinnacle of French chic. Here, a few of Saint Laurent’s confidants and colleagues share memories of their dear friend Yves.
Edmonde Charles-Roux, writer and former Editor in Chief, French Vogue:
“He was full of doubt. He wasn’t the sort of artist who is sure he’s right. He was always asking questions: ‘How do you like this dress? Would you wear it?’ And I would say, ‘Of course I would.’ And he would say, ‘Oh. That counts.’ I think that was quite intelligent: What is fashion if you can’t wear it?
“The first time we met? Well, it’s historic. He arrived in the office I had at Vogue; I was the chief editor’s assistant, a beginner. And the porter came in and said, ‘There is a young boy with his mother who would like to see [Michel] de Brunhoff [the editor of French Vogue]’…. And the porter said, ‘He wants a meeting.’ His mother wanted to show his drawings to find out if [she should] encourage the young boy to pursue a career in fashion, if he had talent.
“We went into [de Brunhoff’s] office holding his drawings under our arms and we showed them, and he was flabbergasted. He said they looked like the best drawings of Dior….Once they left, Mr. de Brunhoff said to go immediately and see Christian Dior with the drawings: ‘I want to be completely sure the drawings are made by the boy.’ So I went and I was alone, en tête-à-tête with Christian Dior, and he said, ‘These are tellement bien vue [well thought]. Who is the boy?’
“It was a joke we always had, that when he came into the office, he looked like a child of six years. I remember the day after the death of Christian Dior, when [Yves] became the head of the house, always looking like a boy of 16 years old, and he was there with all the directors, and I said, ‘You look like Mussolini in Italy on his balcony, greeting the crowds in the street.’ He was a hero of Paris; nobody could imagine he could become the first to take that enormous job in that house. From one day to the other, Yves became a sort of entrepreneur, a director of a very, very important business…. Then he did the famous black collection: There were very few dresses and costumes with color; it was black and dark and terribly chic, with what we call in French a blouse noir, a very democratic way of dressing. It was very courageous.”