PARIS — Hundreds of onlookers thronged behind barriers around the Eglise Saint-Roch here Thursday as the world of fashion bid adieu to Yves Saint Laurent.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy, accompanied by First Lady Carla Bruni, decorated Saint Laurent's oak coffin with the French flag and gave Saint Laurent military honors in the late designer's capacity as a grand officer in the French Legion of Honor.
When Saint Laurent's remains arrived at the 17th-century church on the Rue Saint-Honoré on the Right Bank, applause erupted from the crowd that had come to pay their respects to the celebrated couturier, who retired in 2002. Saint Laurent died of brain cancer Sunday at age 71.
The memorial mass is likely to be remembered as one of the most important and biggest French fashion funerals since the death of Christian Dior in 1957. After the mass, Saint Laurent was cremated and his ashes are to be flown to Morocco, where they will be placed in an urn in the Majorelle Gardens.
People began to arrive outside the church in the morning to stake out a spot behind the police cordon from which to watch the mass. A giant-screen television, first broadcasting YSL fashion shows (including the designer's farewell in 2002), was erected outside the church for the public, who snaked around the block. Inside, the church, Paris' parish for artists, was redolent with lilies and jasmine, while the outside was ringed with bouquets of white roses.
The mass started at 3:30 p.m., but the more than 800 guests began to trickle in as early as 2 p.m. A visibly emotional Catherine Deneuve arrived cradling a bouquet of wheat. "Saint Laurent was pure elegance," she said.
Other notables 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 Ricardo Tisci. Giorgio Armani and Hedi Slimane were among the designers expected, but they were ultimately unable to attend.
LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton chairman Bernard Arnault, PPR owner François Pinault, Bernadette Chirac, Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoe, Robert Polet, Valerie Hermann, Sidney Toledano, Jacqueline de Ribes, Philippine de Rothschild, Farah Diba, Bethy Lagardère, French writer Bernard-Henri Lévy and his wife, Arielle Dombasle, Ines de la Fressange, Laetitia Casta and Claudia Schiffer also climbed the stone steps to the church.
The mass was a solemn affair, punctuated by moving music, including live renditions of Vivaldi's "Stabat Mater" and Mozart's "Requiem," and a recording of Bellini's "Casta Diva" by Maria Callas.
The coffin, greeted by applause outside, was borne into the church in utter silence. Pierre Bergé, Saint Laurent's companion and business partner of 50 years; the late designer's mother, Lucienne Mathieu Saint Laurent, and his sisters Brigitte and Michele; other immediate family, and members of his inner circle, including Betty Catroux, followed.
Once the coffin had been laid on the altar, a string quartet played the andante moderato from Johannes Brahms' "String Quartet no. 1 in B flat major," followed by a crackled recording from the Sixties of Saint Laurent briskly answering the Proust Questionnaire.
Father Roland Letteron presided over the service, during which he praised Saint Laurent's ability to transform his personal suffering into creative genius. Letteron made a case for Saint Laurent being called an artist and not merely an artisan. "We buried another artisan in this church — a gardener," said Letteron, referring to 17th-century landscape architect André Le Nôtre. He added Saint Laurent had become an artist in the noble approach he took to fashion.
Fighting back tears, Deneuve, a big YSL heart pendant hanging from her neck, read a poem by Walt Whitman.
Bergé followed Deneuve's homage, recalling in a 10-minute tribute of his own how he met Saint Laurent a half century ago and the two men decided to combine their destinies into what would become one of fashion's most historic partnerships.
"How could I have imagined that 50 years later I would be here addressing you for the last time?" said Bergé in an emotional tone.
"It is to you that I'm talking," he continued. "You who can't answer me."
Bergé's remembrance of his relationship with Saint Laurent was eloquent, touching and intensely personal, provoking tears from many guests. "I remember the first collection you did under your own name. How quickly the years have passed."
He continued, "I want to tell you the qualities I most loved in you: honesty, rigor and perfectionism.
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