Photos: A Rare Glimpse Inside the Yves Saint Laurent Archives

YSL Archives

On Yves Saint Laurent’s 80th birthday year, a look inside the designer’s archive and the 5,000 garments he created between 1962 and 2002.


Over 1,500 of Yves Saint Laurent’s shoe designs are stored at the archive. These navy blue pumps are from his very first collection in 1962. Photo by Ithaka Roddam.


Gazar capes decorated with hundreds of hours’ worth of hand-embroidered bougainvillea from the Spring-Summer 1989 Haute Couture collection await restoration. Photo by Ithaka Roddam.


Growing up, Saint Laurent was torn between pursuing a career in fashion and following in the footsteps of Christian Bérard, the theatre costume designer. Ultimately he didn’t choose. Creating clothes for both the stage and catwalk throughout his career, Saint Laurent collaborated with the likes of Jean Marais, Louis Bruñel and Zizi Jeanmaire. These are the black leathers shoes worn by Catherine Deneuve in the 1967 film Belle de Jour, with whom he became close friends. Photo by Ithaka Roddam.


This titanic fashion house was a lifelong dream of Saint Laurent’s who, as a teenager growing up in Algeria, created handmade fashion show invitations, which he would slip under his sister’s bedroom door, and designed collections for a series of handmade paper dolls by cutting out silhouettes from his mother’s favorite magazines, including Vogue, Paris Match and Jardins des Modes. All of the paper dolls were named and accompanied with elaborate programs referencing the finest textile manufacturers (Bianchini, Abraham, Bucal), luxury furriers (Révillon, Emba) and even bespoke gloves and shoes by Maison Alexndrine and André Perugia, respectively. The foundation has 11 papers dolls in the archive, and over 400 outfits dating between 1953-1955. Photo by Ithaka Roddam.


Photo by Ithaka Roddam.


On display in the studio: a long evening dress in leopard-print satin crepe from the Fall-Winter 1982 Haute Couture collection. Photo by Ithaka Roddam.


Every one of Saint Laurent’s garments had its origin in a sketch, and from this a canvas prototype was made. These are called toiles, and a rail of them appears in this picture. Saint Laurent would make several toiles – fitting them to the model by removing and adding fabric; positioning pockets and other details onto the canvas; chopping and changing the length of sleeves – until the design, cut and fit was exactly as he wanted it. Photo by Ithaka Roddam.


Photo by Ithaka Roddam.


Gazar capes decorated with hundreds of hours’ worth of hand-embroidered bougainvillea from the Spring-Summer 1989 Haute Couture collection await restoration. Photo by Ithaka Roddam.


Photo by Ithaka Roddam.


Photo by Ithaka Roddam.


Although it may look like a print, the blocks of color on the Homage to Piet Mondrian cocktail dresses were achieved using a technique called incrustation, by which different colored fabrics (in this case wool jersey) are layered on top of one another, and then selectively cut away to reveal the different color underneath. Photo by Ithaka Roddam.


Photo by Ithaka Roddam.


The Tribute to Vincent Van Gogh jackets from the Spring-Summer 1988 Haute Couture collection, one of which was modeled by an 18-year-old Naomi Campbell on the runway. The dense embroideries of sunflowers and irises took over 100 hours to complete, making them some of the most expensive pieces Saint Laurent ever created. Photo by Ithaka Roddam.


For his Fall-Winter 1990 Haute Couture collection, Saint Laurent wanted to make a garment that resembled a lion’s mane. To achieve this effect he worked closely with Lemairé (a plumassier, or specialist feather atelier) to expertly decorate this brown organza coat with hundreds of pheasant and multicolored rhea feathers. Photo by Ithaka Roddam.


Over the course of his 40-year career, Saint Laurent provided the means for women to express their growing emancipation sartorially. “Yves adapted the man’s wardrobe – the tuxedo, the pantsuit, the safari-jacket – for women and in doing so redistributed some of man’s power to them,” Bergé explains. “He understood that fashion was a way to reassure and empower women.” Photo by Ithaka Roddam.


After Saint Laurent’s death in 2008, Bergé ensured his studio was kept exactly as he left it: his pencils, sketchbooks, and glasses strewn across his desk; and his color swatches, magazine cuttings, photographs still pinned to the walls. “The studio is the heart of the couture house,” says Bergé. “I never interfered in Yves’ artistic territory, and he never interfered in the business matters (not that he ever wanted to), so it goes without saying that I spent all my time in the office and very little time here.” Photo by Ithaka Roddam.


Photo by Ithaka Roddam.


A toile for Saint Laurent’s famous safari jacket, similar to the one worn by the German model Veruschka von Lehndorff when she posed with a rifle slung over her shoulders for Vogue Paris’ July 1968 issue. Photo by Ithaka Roddam.


Photo by Ithaka Roddam.


Four fashion conservationists are employed by the foundation to continually restore the clothes, and to develop ways of exhibiting them that won’t damage the delicate garments. Unlike couturiers, whose creations are designed to withstand the test of time, conservationists’ work must be fully reversible in case more advanced methods of repair are developed in the future. Photo by Ithaka Roddam.


Photo by Ithaka Roddam.


Saint Laurent adored and surrounded himself with art. When his personal collection went on sale at Christie’s in 2009 (one of auction house’s most lucrative sales ever, netting $443.1 million) a Duchamp perfume bottle, Brancusi sculpture and Matisse still life were among the lots. But at the center of the bidding war was an abstract painting by Piet Mondrian – the artist who inspired the iconic cocktail dresses of Saint Laurent’s Fall-Winter 1965 Haute Couture collection. The Homage to Piet Mondrian cocktail dress was worn by Moyra Swan and photographed by David Bailey for the cover of the September 1965 issue of Vogue Paris. Photo by Ithaka Roddam.


Photo by Ithaka Roddam.


Photo by Ithaka Roddam.


A theatrical silk-brocade wedding gown decorated with feathers from the Fall-Winter 1986 Haute Couture collection. Photo by Ithaka Roddam.


Gazar capes decorated with hundreds of hours’ worth of hand-embroidered bougainvillea from the Spring-Summer 1989 Haute Couture collection await restoration. Photo by Ithaka Roddam.