On June 1, the fashion world said goodbye to one of its greatest designers, Yves Saint Laurent, who died from brain cancer at 71.
His memorial mass, held at the Eglise Saint-Roch on June 5, was the most important French fashion funeral since Christian Dior’s in 1957.
This story first appeared in the December 15, 2008 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Standing behind barriers for hours, hundreds of fans burst into applause, some into tears, when the late designer’s coffin arrived at the 17th-century church on the Right Bank.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy, accompanied by First Lady Carla Bruni Sarkozy, adorned the coffin with the French flag and gave Saint Laurent military honors to mark his stature as a grand officer in the French Legion of Honor.
Pierre Bergé, Saint Laurent’s companion and business partner for 50 years, was joined by longtime friends Catherine Deneuve, Betty Catroux and Loulou de la Falaise. Designers in attendance included Valentino, Marc Jacobs, Christian Lacroix, John Galliano, Alber Elbaz, Sonia Rykiel, Jean Paul Gaultier, Stefano Pilati, Kenzo Takada, Hubert de Givenchy, Vivienne Westwood and Riccardo Tisci.
An intimate circle of around 20 attended Saint Laurent’s cremation at the Père-Lachaise cemetery the following day. His ashes were laid in a mausoleum in his beloved Majorelle Gardens in Marrakech, which he restored with Bergé.
It was an emotional send-off for a designer who shaped and reshaped fashion for half a century, winning accolades from “genius” and “master” to “the prince” or “the king of fashion.” The latter anointment caused him to joke: “So they have crowned me king. Look what happened to all the other kings in France.”
Yet his reign goes on as France and the world continue to pay respects.
In 2010, a giant fashion retrospective, likely to include some 300 pieces, is slated to be held at the Petit Palais in Paris. It’s being organized by the Fondation Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent, which possesses some 5,000 haute couture garments plus around 15,000 accessories, sketches and assorted objects spanning Saint Laurent’s 40-year career.
In February, some 700 works of art, including pieces by Picasso and Matisse, collected over five decades by Bergé and the designer, will be auctioned by Christie’s in Paris — in association with Pierre Bergé and Associates.
Proceeds, estimated at between 200 million euros, or nearly $250 million at current exchange, and 400 million euros, or $500 million, will go to the Fondation Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent and to a new foundation Bergé created to fund research to fight AIDS. Meanwhile, a retrospective featuring 40 years of couture creations, such as a cream shantung dress made for Princess Grace of Monaco in 1964, continues at the de Young Museum in San Francisco until March following its four-month run at Montreal’s Museum of Fine Arts.
In September, the French seaside resort of Deauville, where Saint Laurent and Bergé owned the 19th-century Château Gabriel, unveiled the Place Yves Saint Laurent, a tribute to the designer who made Deauville a summer home for some 30 years.
From his invention of ready-to-wear with Rive Gauche to designing pants for women, sending black models down the runway and himself posing naked in an advertisement for his men’s scent in 1971 — Saint Laurent broke codes in both fashion and in society.
“Chanel gave women freedom. Yves Saint Laurent gave them power,” said Bergé.
His dominance over fashion was such that, if he made a minor alteration to a hemline, the repercussions and replications rippled around the globe. “I’m happy to be copied, otherwise I wouldn’t be doing my job well,” he declared in 1998.
And his influence continues in the works of many. “I and a couple of friends always say, ‘How would Saint Laurent do it?’” said Marc Jacobs. “I can say with confidence that he will continue to inspire me,” said Stefano Pilati, the designer who continues his name. Among those whom he inspired to join the industry are Yohji Yamamoto, Giles Deacon and Vera Wang.
“There’s a feeling of frustration in fashion with things that only last a season and die,” Saint Laurent said in 1978. “I try, as I advance, to make something that will last, that will be passed from one generation to another.’’