By and  on January 8, 2002

PARIS -- "I today decided to bid farewell to the world of fashion I have so loved."

With those simple words, a composed but rueful Yves Saint Laurent bid an official and emotional adieu Monday. He confirmed during a hushed press conference at his salon at 5 avenue Marceau that his retrospective show on Jan. 22 will be his last and that his 40-year-old couture house will close once orders from the show have been filled.

With his partner and business associate Pierre Berge at his side stifling sobs and blinking through tear-filled eyes, Saint Laurent read from a prepared statement above the constant whir of the photographers' shutters. Dressed in a black suit with his ash blond hair swept neatly back, he paid thanks to his various collaborators, supporters and mentors; reflected on a long career marked by personal turmoil and strife; and articulated his contributions to fashion in the 20th century, which are countless.

He and Berge also played down reports of a feud with Francois Pinault, whose family holding company, Artemis, has backed the couture house since it acquired YSL in 1999 and then sold it to Gucci Group. Meanwhile, Berge didn't miss a chance to take a swipe at some of today's younger designers, and at the media.

"I would also like to thank Mr. Francois Pinault," Saint Laurent said, "and to express to him my gratitude for allowing me to bring this marvelous adventure to a harmonious close, he believing, as I do, that this house's haute couture line should come to an end upon my departure."

The press conference was a brisk, no-frills affair, starting promptly at noon with Saint Laurent's arrival, the designer clutching his speech in a plain blue folder and confronting a wall of television cameras and newspaper photographers. Several French stations broadcast live feeds from the press conference for their noon programs.

Saint Laurent characterized his couture team as a family, and the press conference was attended by the likes of Betty Catroux, Loulou de la Falaise, Anne-Marie Munoz and even Hedi Slimane, who Saint Laurent and Berge have befriended in recent years. Saint Laurent paid tribute to Christian Dior, calling him "my master, who was instrumental in revealing to me the secrets and mysteries of haute couture. I do not forget Balenciaga, Schiaparelli, and, of course, Chanel, who taught me so much and who, as we all know, liberated women. It was this that enabled me, years later, to give women supremacy and, in a way, to liberate fashion."

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