Oscar de la Renta:
“I love rooms full of light, and my wife doesn’t like rooms with a lot of light. We went to see Yves in the house that he had in Normandy, and he showed us through the house. We walked into the most wonderful, beautiful bedroom that had a very tender, very romantic lighting. All the curtains were drawn, and it looked absolutely mysterious and beautiful. Then Pierre ran to open all the windows, and Yves walked right behind him and said, ‘No!!!’ He wanted Annette to look at the room just with that kind of light. Many times early on, when I went to Paris with Annette and with my first wife, Françoise, we would spend time with Yves. Both my wives loved Yves. He didn’t have a huge circle of friends, so I was honored that he always spent time with me. Not only was he a great fashion designer, he was a great, great artist.”
Clara Saint, former press agent, Yves Saint Laurent:
“He didn’t see the world of fashion. He was a solitary spirit, with a small circle of friends. He never integrated into the fashion world.
“We first met when Margot Fonteyn invited me to luncheon with Yves and Pierre Bergé at Maxim’s. We instantly had a link. It was as if we’d always known each other. We never separated. When he opened the first Rive Gauche ready-to-wear boutique, in 1966, he asked if I wanted to work with him, to take care of press. I had never worked before. I thought it was a little too easy to take care of one shop. But in a year there were 40 Rive Gauche shops. The success was incredible. Cars were parked three-deep at the curb, and after a fortnight, nothing was left…. People talk about Yves suffering, but he was also one of the funniest people you can imagine. We would be on the floor with laughter at times. He had an incredible eye and did caricatures of people for us, which amused us a lot. He saw people exactly as they were. He had an absolute eye.”
Francois-Marie Banier, photographer and writer:
“Immediately we spoke deeply about everything. His world, his work, sex, freedom and his gods: Pierre Bergé, Christian Dior, Maria Callas, Picasso, Chanel. What questions he asked! Why navy blue, black, beige? Shouldn’t one take color and fantasy to the maximum?
“I loved that he talked about his mother, of his sisters and how he terrorized them as a young boy. I was terrified by his years at school, where his classmates made him suffer. I loved the secrets of the world of Christian Dior, where he started; the portraits of the influential women over whom Monsieur Dior reigned. I loved the solitude of his memories. And the fidelity of his friends: Fernando Sanchez, Betty Catroux, Loulou de la Falaise, Anne-Marie Munoz. I loved less his need for solitude. There were many moments when he would only go from his home to the couture house and back home. It was at that moment that I decided to show him the pictures of people I’d photographed in the street. My solitaires. I brought them to him to make him come out of himself…. In the first years of my photography, he sponsored me and paid for labs. I remember calling him when I was 16 from Salvador Dalí’s suite at the Meurice Hotel and asking if he wanted to pose for him. He said he couldn’t do a thing like that…. He was very, very funny. One night we were leaving L’Escargot [a restaurant in Paris], and Yves laid down on the street corner on a cardboard box. Suddenly he started to scream. A hand emerged from the box and was pulling at his trousers.
“Pierre and I used to laugh that Yves could lose sleep because Madame Ida, the premiere of his atelier, had gotten the shoulder on a jacket wrong. But without that focus on perfection, he wouldn’t have had his work… He was profoundly haunted by sexuality. No other couturier understood desire as profoundly… Yves was a flame in the service of women, of his art. He gave everything to his métier, like a saint gives everything to God.” —with contributions by Katya Foreman, Ellen Groves and Robert Murphy