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Yves Saint Laurent, one of the greatest fashion designers in history, died at his home late Sunday at 71 after a long battle with brain cancer. He had been bedridden recently and friends said in the last week he had been unable to eat or talk. Saint Laurent had been rarely seen over the last year, and even then he was wheelchair bound and weak.
The designer’s health had been precarious throughout his life. At age 21, he burst onto the scene as the sensational new designer at Christian Dior, replacing the late Monsieur Dior himself. The bespectacled, shy, soft-spoken designer quickly became an icon — and would remain so for the next five decades.
Saint Laurent’s contributions to fashion were unquestioned — even if, in later years, many of his collections were considered repetitive of his signatures. In this century, only Dior, Coco Chanel, Cristobal Balenciaga and Karl Lagerfeld, his peer and rival, were said to be on the same plateau.
Saint Laurent’s grip on the world of fashion that if he made a slight change in a hemline or a subtle shift in a waistline, the repercussions rippled around the globe. At the minimum, fashion owes him credit for the invention of ready-to-wear through the launch in 1966 of his Rive Gauche collection. But there also were his iconic tuxedo suit “le smoking,” beatnik fashions, the use of safari jackets as a style statement for women and men, the Ballets Russes collection, his unparalleled sense of color combinations, the artistry of his cut, designer denim and the launch of a significant fragrance and beauty business with a designer name.
As the retiring Saint Laurent himself told WWD on the last day in his atelier in 2002, “I always served women and I did it without compromise until the end, with respect and love.”
Informed of Saint Laurent’s death, Oscar de la Renta said: “His circle had become smaller than small and he saw only his closest and most loyal friends — Loulou de la Falaise, Betty Catroux, Pierre Bergé.…He marked a period of fashion in an extraordinary and exciting way. He had an eye for color, an eye for the exotic. At one point, for a very long time, he was the king of fashion. Everyone wanted to be Yves Saint Laurent. He was such an unbelievably gifted man. He sketched beautifully, he wrote beautifully.
“I think he retreated into a life of his own. He loved his house in Marrakech. I never saw the new house that he bought and decorated in Tangiers. But that part of the world was such an influence on his life, the extraordinary color of that life influenced his work in an extraordinary way. How could you forget the Russians, the gypsies? He just had an extraordinary eye for a fantasy that every woman wanted to be a part of. Just come to Annette’s closet. All the dresses are still hanging there.”
“He’s my big fashion hero and always has been and it’s really sad that he’s gone,” said Marc Jacobs Sunday night of Saint Laurent’s death. “I just think to me and to so many others he has been such a great inspiration in terms of everything, first and foremost in terms design. Saint Laurent was the first to look at youth and street culture and take elements and make them chic.
“I and a couple of friends always say, ‘How would Saint Laurent do it?’ It’s a little, funny gauge of a thing being right, a kind of standard for chic, for youth, for sex appeal without vulgarity and overall beauty.”
Vera Wang said, “I think I’m in shock. I’m in fashion today because of him. I lived in Paris right next to his first couture house. My mother adored his work and introduced me to it when I was 16. I feel in love with fashion because of Yves Saint Laurent. He was the first international superstar in the modern era.”
On the January day in 2002 when Saint Laurent retired, his fellow designers packed the room to bid him adieu. Yohji Yamamoto said, “I am one of the designers who started in fashion design because of Yves. He is my inspiration. He has been my father and teacher.”
Jean Paul Gaultier added, “For me, Saint Laurent is and has always been the absolute master. In his work, I find the energy to do my work. He gave us glamour, he loves women — and he opened a lot of doors for fashion. What we are all doing is because of Saint Laurent. We all love him, and he knows that.”
Yet Saint Laurent always seemed to have a love-hate relationship with the fashion world. On the one hand capable of breathtaking creativity, the pressures continually wore on his nervous nature and he would disappear for months to recuperate. There were so many warnings over the state of his health through the Eighties and Nineties that they became a type of macabre joke — rivaled only by quips over what color his hair would be when he would take his bow.
Throughout his life, Saint Laurent shunned the spotlight. With homes in Paris and New York, a villa in Marrakech and a chateau in Normandy, he could create his own environments. He owned paintings by Goya, Matisse, Leger, Munch, Klee, Picasso and Cezanne but it was the writer Marcel Proust whose work most informed his life. At Chateau Gabriel, a 19th-century castle in Normandy that he owned jointly with Bergé, all the guest rooms were named for Proustian characters.
In his office, Saint Laurent kept a framed quotation from Proust: “The magnificent and lamentable family of the nervous is the salt of the earth. It’s they and no one else who founded religions and created masterpieces.’”
Yves Henri Mathieu Saint Laurent was born into a French colonial family on Aug. 1, 1936, in Oran, Algeria, the eldest child and only son of Charles and Lucienne Mathieu Saint Laurent. His father was a director of an insurance company and the family lived in a villa by the sea.
As a child, he amused his two younger sisters, Brigitte and Michele, by cutting paper figurines into the shape of dolls and making dresses for them out of swatches of fabric. He presented his first fashion show (with his sisters acting as “clients”) when he was 12. A year later, he was taken to the theater in Oran to see Moliere’s “L’Ecole des Femmes.”
“I realized immediately,” he said as a young man, “that I had witnessed a work of genius, never equalled by all I have seen since.” His love of theater never diminished.
Of his mother, he said: “My mother, who loves to dress, inspired my early interest in clothes, but more than that she helped me constantly to fulfill my inner gifts. And my father never tried to restrain me.”
He was a voracious reader, with Christian Berard, Jean Cocteau, Orlean Petit, Louis Jouvet — and, of course, Proust — among his favorites. He said he never wanted to finish reading “Remembrance of Things Past” because he couldn’t bear to part with it.
His parents wanted him to study law. He wanted to go to Paris and study art. In 1953, when he was 17, he did. A year later, he met Michel de Brunhoff, director of the French edition of Vogue, and sold him some sketches. At de Brunhoff’s suggestion, Saint Laurent entered a contest sponsored by the International Wool Secretariat. One of the judges was Christian Dior, who looked at the drawings and realized they had a startling similarity to his own sketches. Saint Laurent was hired as an assistant.
On Oct. 24, 1957, Dior died in Montecatini, Italy, at the age of 52. With France still struggling to regain its prestige and economic health after the devastation of World War II, Dior’s death hit the nation particularly hard. Within a month, on Nov. 10, 1957, the 21-year-old Saint Laurent was named head designer and shoved squarely into a spotlight for which he was little prepared.
In describing Saint Laurent’s reaction to Dior’s death, Life reported that he “looked as though he had been crushed by a large rock.” Indeed, a photograph of him at Dior’s funeral reveals a pale young man with a numb expression, as if the weight of the world were resting on his slender shoulders.
WWD reports at that time described him as “speaking in a low voice” and “extremely shy.” It was a description that would have been accurate virtually every day of his life.
His first collection for Dior was shown on Jan. 30, 1958. It featured the Trapeze and won him overnight fame. “Paris never looked younger than it did at the recent spring fashion collections,” said The New York Times. “Yves Saint Laurent, Christian Dior’s successor, stole the show.”
That summer, YSL showed again and it was the most provocative collection in Paris. While everyone else featured skirts to the kneecap, his lengths were at midcalf. In August, shortly after Saint Laurent turned 22, the House of Dior hired Marc Bohan and sent him to London to design Dior’s wholesale collection.
In September, Saint Laurent made his first trip to the U.S. when he became the youngest designer to win the annual Neiman Marcus fashion award, presented for that controversial second collection. “Other designers make what they want; I make what I want,” he said.
Over the next few years, his collections for Dior — each one radically different from its predecessor — were the subject of heated debate, particularly in the French press. In July 1960, for example, he unveiled his “chic Beatnik” collection. It featured black leather jackets trimmed in fur and was so heavily criticized, it almost brought his career to a halt when it had barely begun.
That September, after receiving two deferments because 2,000 jobs on five continents depended on his talents, Saint Laurent was inducted into the French army and put on a leave of absence from Dior. Bohan, then 34 and growing tired of playing second fiddle, was brought to Paris to pinch hit for him.
“Two or three successful collections bearing the Bohan name and it is difficult to imagine where Saint Laurent would fit into the picture,” said WWD. It was a prophetic proposition. Bohan represented a new direction for Dior. The columnist Eugenia Sheppard wrote that Saint Laurent was “highly dramatic, often stagey. His trapeze and bubble silhouettes were extreme shapes that made headlines around the world.” Bohan, she said, is “best known for the pretty, shapely type of clothes.” He remained creative director of the house for 29 years.
Within days after Saint Laurent’s army induction, he entered a military hospital, suffering a nervous breakdown — the first of many over the next several decades. Two people visited him every day at the hospital: one was his mother, the other was Pierre Bergé, a young man who had become his closest friend.
Bergé had come to Paris to be a painter but became a businessman instead, achieving great success as the man who managed the career of the artist Bernard Buffet. He would, of course, go on to far greater glory — and power — as Saint Laurent’s partner, for a time both personal and professional.
Two months after Saint Laurent became a soldier, he was released back into civilian life. Marcel Boussac, Dior’s owner, told him he could travel as a Dior public relations man; Jacques Rouet, Dior’s administrator, wanted Boussac to open a small separate house under YSL’s name. Boussac refused.
Saint Laurent went home and tried to figure out what to do next. He was 24.
In April 1961, under a headline that said “Saint Laurent Comes Back,” WWD published the first Saint Laurent sketches since his collapse. They were for “Les Forains,” a TV ballet starring Roland Petit and Zizi Jeanmaire. That September, together with Bergé, he opened a two-room office in Paris’ Rue La Boetie. Within a month, they found a backer — a banker and insurance man from Atlanta by the name of J. Mack Robinson — and the business officially got under way.
The famous YSL logo was designed by Cassandre, one of France’s greatest graphic artists. (By then, Saint Laurent had dropped the “Mathieu” from his name.) Workshops became available from the recently closed house of Manguin and a townhouse on Rue Spontini was commandeered. Saint Laurent’s first collection under his own name began to take shape. It was presented on Jan. 29, 1962.
In a tribute written for YSL’s 20th anniversary as a designer in 1982, John B. Fairchild, then-chairman and editorial director of WWD parent Fairchild Publications, remembered the occasion: “At the end of that historic show Monday, the room erupted in chaos. Saint Laurent was pushed out from behind a curtain. He was mobbed by admirers and had to run into a closet to hide. A potted plant tottered and almost fell. Pierre Bergé stood on a chair, directing traffic.”
Following Chanel, Balenciaga and Dior, Saint Laurent had emerged as fashion’s “fourth force.”
Other accounts of that first show were more restrained. “Saint Laurent broke no new ground in design,” said Vogue, while The New York Times said, “Although he produced a very good collection, [he] did not say anything new.”
Nevertheless, in April, May and June, the private customers started lining up — Lady Diana Cooper, the Duchess of Windsor, Princess Lee Radziwill, Countess Chandon de Briailles, Jacqueline de Ribes.
In August, Saint Laurent unveiled his second collection, and this time the praise was almost unanimously lavish. Time magazine called the collection “the sensation of the week” and spoke of the designer’s “elevation to the ranks of the fashion greats,” right up there with Balenciaga and Hubert de Givenchy.
The New York Times Magazine said “his first collection was less than a smash, but his second…has lifted him to the pinnacle of Paris couture.”
In August 1963, Saint Laurent’s picture appeared on the cover of Newsweek. Until his show that summer, the couture was in the doldrums. Many of its regular customers were literally dying off; new technology was making it simpler to copy couture clothes, and many couturiers seemed out of touch with the postwar mood. Saint Laurent revitalized the couture.
With a collection meant to be worn by real women doing real things, he was the unquestioned smash of Paris. He made what one American woman called “dresses I can Twist in [the Twist was a popular dance of the time] and go to the bathroom in.”
In an interview with Newsweek, Saint Laurent said, “I know now that you can’t take your clothes out of life, away from reality, and have them mean anything. A designer must get out and look at life around him. As soon as I went Twisting at Regine’s, I understood the problem older women have in a place like that.”
By 1964, his ability to make dramatic new statements with each passing season had become his trademark. Unlike Balenciaga, Chanel and Givenchy —who created a look and stayed with it — Saint Laurent continually shifted gears to keep on top of rapidly changing events.
An article in Look magazine said: “His achievements, like those of so many youthful leaders in other creative fields, stem from extraordinary perception and an ability to interpret the times with imagination, artistry and daring.”
There were two major events in YSL’s life in the summer of 1965. In July, J. Mack Robinson sold his interest in the fashion house for a net price of less than $1 million to Lanvin-Charles of the Ritz, whose president was Richard A. Salomon. Bergé said the house would now become “one of the biggest and most important in Paris…rivaling the $30 million Dior in size.”
(Ritz already had the Saint Laurent license for fragrance, and had launched the scent Y in Europe, where it was highly successful. It was introduced in the U.S. that fall.)
At the same time Ritz was buying Saint Laurent, YSL’s mother gave him a book on the Dutch painter Piet Mondrian. That summer, he introduced a collection based on Mondrian’s use of primary colors in rectangular blocks. He would regard it later as one of his greatest successes.
He visited the U.S. in October for a three-week national tour to promote Y. He was a guest on “The Tonight Show” (then televised from New York), went to Arthur, the most popular discotheque in town, and met with America’s leading designer, Norman Norell. On Nov. 9, 1965, he was in New York when a massive power failure blacked out almost all of the Northeast. That evening, dining at Le Pavillon by candlelight, he said he thought a bomb had gone off.
The year before, he had fantasized about his own boutique, telling WWD: “Why not open a boutique in the center of St. Germain des Pres where all the young people would see it?…Now I have an urge to open a boutique ‘pour les jeunes.’”
In September 1966, he did. The first Rive Gauche opened at 21 Rue de Tournon, on the Left Bank and Saint Laurent said: “It’s just as I want…wild colors and very modern. Black glass for the entrance, a steel pillar and dark orange carpeting, and one huge window.”
The first of what would become a string of more than 160 stores, it remained open until midnight and sold dresses for $60.
Saint Laurent often said he wanted to write his autobiography and continually referred to his frustration at not being able to complete it.
The closest he came was with the publication of his book, “La Vilaine Lulu,” in 1967. It recounted the adventures of Nasty Lulu, a cartoon character he had been doodling for some 10 years. Lulu, a squat, sadistic little girl, was in some ways, Saint Laurent’s alter ego, saying and doing what he dared not. Nasty Lulu once said, for example: “I roar with laughter when all those females, the faithful, the content, the fanatics of fashion, the blue-stockings, the journalists, come to scratch the nape of his neck and murmur with beatitude: ‘My Yves.’ They whisper to him, flutter around him, and he says nothing. If I weren’t to be a comic, there would be a lot to say on the psychological level about that shy bird, that myopic being who, behind those eyeglasses like television screens, is never snowed. He immediately detects in another what is true, what is crucial.”
It was during the student strikes in France in 1968 that Saint Laurent reevaluated his thoughts about the couture and concluded that as an institution, it had become obsolete.
“Real fashion today comes from the young people manning the streets — those between 30 and 35,” he said. “The difference between day and evening clothes is outdated. The new fashion freedom permits people to be as they are or as they want to be…to go to dinner, for instance, as they were in the morning in black jersey, or anything else. My new collection is based on the idea of the suit — the practical, modern, easy world of the suit. Not the suit as we’ve known it…a suit that will look different with a skirt or pants. And pants with coats are part of our life.”
The result was his revolutionary CityPants collection, but almost as if he were compensating for hiding women’s legs, he also showed a see-through blouse — another symbol of the sexual liberation that characterized the decade.
The same year, the first Rive Gauche shop in America opened on New York’s Madison Avenue. Although miniskirts were being worn by women of all ages — and shapes — Saint Laurent shook up the fashion world in 1969, when he dropped hems below the knee and showed the longest skirts since Dior’s New Look in 1947.
“It’s degenerate, it’s decadent, somewhat Proustian,” he said. “It’s sexy.”
It also precipitated one of the most controversial and unsettling periods in the history of contemporary fashion. The following January, YSL showed the longuette and Bergé said, “This has been the most difficult collection I’ve ever had to produce. We are all expecting a miracle. This house usually has them.”
The miracle, said many manufacturers at all price levels, is that they were able to survive a period in which many women were confused about what skirt lengths were appropriate.
Through it all, Saint Laurent kept taking the pulse of the younger generation. “Hippie is more than a way of dressing,” he said in 1970. “It’s a spirit which fills young people. I don’t know any young people who are not hippies in their spirit. This is what it is all about. When the revolution comes, it will come from the young people.” He began to grow a beard.
The Seventies saw a continued growth in his business and a move, in July 1974, to 5 Avenue Marceau. He expanded into footwear, men’s wear, luggage and home textiles. He made plans for his line to be made in the U.S. and to bring the number of Rive Gauche boutiques to 100. He also planned to widen his rtw collection and limit his couture designs.
“We’re eliminating the show and going back to making clothes, our true trade,” he said.
In November 1971, he shocked some people by appearing nude — first in French Vogue, then in other French publications — in an advertisement for his men’s fragrance.
Inspired by the Ballet Russe, Saint Laurent dazzled Paris in April 1976 with a collection many people regard as his most beautiful. It was his Big Fantasy collection and from babushkas to boots, it shook up the fashion world with a lush display of color, pattern and texture that moved some people at the opening to tears.
Three months later, when he showed the same look in his fall couture collection, The New York Times put the story on its front page. It was a collection, said the Times, “that will change the course of fashion around the world.”
A month later, just after his 40th birthday, Saint Laurent told WWD: “I needed a violent explosion of Fantasy. This collection was a dream that I have had for a long time. I have always wanted to do a collection that included everything that I love in my life. I have always wanted to do a collection that was a reflection of all my tastes.”
The effort exhausted him, putting him into a rehabilitation clinic for three weeks.
“He was born,” said Bergé, “with a nervous breakdown.” Two months later, in October, he had to be supported by his models while taking bows after his latest collection, one he said he created from his bed in the American Hospital in Paris. An article in WWD referred to “rumors of dire illness, drinking problems and drug intoxication.”
For Saint Laurent, 1978 turned out to be a year of three major events: In January, he introduced the Broadway suit in a couture collection inspired by “Porgy and Bess” and the American black culture. It was a huge success. In March, he made more news when he pulled out of the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture, because its membership had become swollen with second-rank firms. As Bergé put it, the association “has become like a Spanish roadhouse — they let people in from left and right, who only want to capitalize on the reputation and prestige of Paris couture.”
Finally, in September, YSL launched his second women’s fragrance in the U.S. It was called Opium and it turned out to be as controversial as it was successful. The launch itself was a lavish affair, starting with a mammoth party for 900 in New York aboard a 350-foot, 70-year-old four-master called the Peking. The cost was reportedly $250,000.
The name of the fragrance provoked a deluge of protests from Asian-Americans who felt it was denigrating.
“It was the only name I wanted,” said Saint Laurent. “After Y, I wanted a lush, heavy, indolent fragrance. I wanted Opium to be captivating, and it’s a fragrance which evokes all the things I love — the refined Orient, Imperial China, exoticism.” The controversy lasted into the next decade. So did the name.
The Eighties were a period in which Saint Laurent’s control over his business continued to expand, even as he became outwardly more fragile.
It began with an announcement by Bergé in January 1980 that the company would pay $7 million to regain total control of its Rive Gauche rtw by acquiring Mendes Co., which made and distributed the clothing. It ended in July 1989 when Saint Laurent put 10.9 percent of the company’s shares on public sale, becoming the first couture house to appear on the Paris Bourse.
While the company was preparing its public offering, Bergé was busy fending off reports that Saint Laurent was either seriously ill, or that he was dying of AIDS. “Everybody knows that [Saint Laurent] has psychological problems,” said Bergé, “that he takes too many tranquilizers which make him seem a little confused, but I declare on my honor that he doesn’t have cancer, that he doesn’t have AIDS — he hasn’t even tested positive.
“What can I do?” he asked. “Yves Saint Laurent’s illness didn’t begin yesterday. People have been talking about it for 15 years.”
In January 1982, when he celebrated the 20th anniversary of his couture house, he was virtually a recluse.
“I have become a monk,” he said, from his apartment on Rue de Babylone.
“Going out is my idea of torture. I want to stay at home. When I’m in my bed with a great book, I feel as if nothing else matters.”
He said his happiest and most productive period was the late Sixties and early Seventies, during which he introduced his “rich peasant” look, his gangster tuxedos and his “tarty” Forties collection.
“I work because I have to,” he said, “not to make money, but for the people who depend on me. If I don’t create the next collection, and the collection after that, they will end up on the streets.”
In December 1983, a few months after the launch of Paris, another women’s fragrance, the Costume Institute of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art paid homage to him with a historic 25-year retrospective of his work. It was followed over the next several years by retrospectives in Beijing, Paris, Moscow, Leningrad and Sydney. Raisa Gorbachev made a special request to see his collection. His name became an entry in the Larousse dictionary.
The mid-Eighties also brought the first rumblings of discontent from the Rive Gauche shops in the U.S., with retailers citing increased competition from other designers and a lack of newness in the collections. In the last half of the Eighties, Rive Gauche shops in many cities began to close.
In November 1986, the company said it would acquire Charles of the Ritz Group, Ltd. — which owned the YSL beauty business — from Squibb Corp. for $630 million.
The fragrance business, meanwhile, continued to bloom. Jazz, a men’s scent, was introduced in 1988, and in August that year, just after his 52nd birthday, Saint Laurent said: “I am happy, so happy, with my success. Yes, I am alone, the King in his Castle. I want to be alone, except for a few friends. I want to be alone. I am happy this way.”
As for his health, he said: “Well, the doctor, a great specialist, has spent hours examining me and told me afterward there was nothing wrong with me that he could find. And then when I was so sick, he told me that he had never seen anyone so strong, or anyone make such a quick recovery. I am better now.”
Saint Laurent began the Nineties with a spring-summer couture collection that paid tribute to many of those who influenced or inspired him: Pablo Picasso, Maria Callas, Jean Cocteau, Marilyn Monroe, Rita Hayworth, and two women who were sitting in the audience: Catherine Deneuve and Zizi Jeanmaire. He had lost almost 40 pounds and looked terrific, but eight weeks later, he entered a hospital for two months after collapsing from nervous exhaustion.
“Extreme intellectual pressure” was cited by his doctor, Michael Prendeville of the American Hospital in Neuilly.
He missed his own runway show, failing to take a post-collection bow for only the second time in his career. The first was in 1979, when he showed his couture collection. Sensing that it was a disappointment, he ordered all the music stopped in the middle of the show, walked out and went home.
In April 1991, de Benedetti sold his remaining 15 percent interest in YSL Groupe — some 574,000 shares — to Bergé and Saint Laurent for $92.4 million. The move increased the Bergé-YSL holding to 47 percent and ended a relationship that began in 1987, when de Benedetti provided the financial backing that enabled YSL to buy back its fragrance and cosmetics business from Charles of the Ritz for $630 million.
Two years later, YSL introduced a new fragrance. It was called Champagne, but that fell flat with French vintners and with Moët Hennessey Louis Vuitton, who won a court ruling against his use of the name. The charge: It violated French trademark laws. All bottles of the fragrance were pulled off the shelves in France.
Nevertheless, the launch in North America provided an excuse for Saint Laurent to return to the U.S. for the first time in 11 years. He and Bergé went to New York for a gala on an island in New York Harbor, a splendid celebration on a soft late-summer night just beneath another French export: the Statue of Liberty.
The end of the decade would bring the decision that eventually would lead to Saint Laurent’s retirement from fashion: the sale of the rights to his label to Gucci Group NV, the fast-growing luxury goods group than overseen by Domenico De Sole and Tom Ford. Gucci was eager to gain control of the YSL label, in which it saw significant potential to repeat the success it had had with reviving the Gucci brand. It also acquired the firm’s beauty operations, YSL Beauté, which would give it a significant cash stream since YSL’s fragrance sales were substantially more than its fashion ones.
The deal would net him and Bergé the equivalent of $264 million and pay off the personal debts they incurred when they bought back 15 percent of the house from Italian financier de Benedetti in 1991. In addition, they would own 10 percent of the fashion business (everything except fragrance and beauty), but have 90 percent of the voting power until they retired. “I find the solution of selling the house whole is like a dream,” Saint Laurent said. “It’s perfect. This will safeguard the continuity of the house.”
The deal effectively valued the whole YSL business at around $655 million.
But from almost before the ink was dry on the deal, Bergé and Saint Laurent battled with Gucci Group management. They remained in control of the couture house, while Gucci took over design of the rtw and oversaw the fragrances. Saint Laurent was briefly succeeded by his chosen successor, Alber Elbaz, but he was dropped after three seasons and replaced by Ford. The imperious Bergé sniped repeatedly at Ford and De Sole, while Saint Laurent also made no secret of his displeasure with the direction Ford was taking his name in rtw. Ford and Saint Laurent rarely met and Ford never visited the Saint Laurent archives, which later would serve as the basis for the formation of the Pierre Bergé – Yves Saint Laurent Foundation.
For the next three years, there would be two visions of Saint Laurent each season: the couture version by the designer himself and Ford’s high-octane one. Finally, it all became too much for Saint Laurent and, in January 2002, he announced plans to retire at a tearful press conference attended by many of his longtime fans.
At the end of October 2002, Saint Laurent left his atelier and his office for the last time. “I am much more at peace now,” he told WWD, adding he had no regrets. “I am not sad — just nostalgic.”
At 1 p.m. Saint Laurent left the premises for the last time, his faithful dog, Moujik, in tow.
Over the next six years, the designer would devote himself to the foundation, mounting exhibitions culled from the house’s vast archives. He would appear in public occasionally, always saying he was glad to be out of fashion.
After all, as Saint Laurent said in a phrase that could serve as his mantra, “Fashions fade. Style is eternal.”