By  on March 9, 2010

PARIS — Yves Saint Laurent’s finest creations, from the Mondrian dress to his trademark Le Smoking, will go on show at the Petit Palais museum in Paris on Thursday in what is being billed as the biggest exhibition ever dedicated to the late French couturier.

“We tried to show the multifacetted work of Saint Laurent, who was really able to do everything,” said his longtime business partner, Pierre Bergé.

Designed by Nathalie Crinière, the display kicks off with a small room re-creating the designer’s office, with a mood board and a trestle table on which his trademark glasses lie among sketches, as if waiting for Saint Laurent to return momentarily.

Beginning with his Trapeze collection for Christian Dior in 1958, the exhibit showcases Saint Laurent’s skill for tailoring and his love of the arts, reflected in dresses inspired by Picasso, Braque and Cocteau, among others.

Bergé said the designer’s greatest contribution was to accompany the Women’s Liberation movement in the Sixties. “By slipping men’s clothes on to women’s shoulders, he gave them the power,” he said.

The show includes a room devoted to Saint Laurent muse Catherine Deneuve, and another focused on his Forties-inspired 1971 collection, including the incendiary reviews it provoked. Bergé gleefully quoted Eugenia Sheppard’s assessment: “What a relief to write at last that a fashion collection is frankly, definitely and completely hideous.”

With more than 300 outfits dating from 1958 to 2002, the show culminates in a vast room where a sea of evening gowns is set off by a black wall featuring variations of the tuxedo on rows of mannequins rising all the way to the ceiling.

“We wanted to show he was neither a cold minimalist nor an extravagant proponent of baroque, but that he managed to create something in between, a sort of equilibrium that is very harmonious and very French,” said Florence Müller, chief curator of the exhibition.

During a preview Monday, Saint Laurent stalwart Betty Catroux made a beeline for the “smoking” section. “It’s totally me,” she said. Former muse turned designer Loulou de la Falaise said the outfits, on loan from the Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent Foundation, held precious memories. “I get very emotional when I see the clothes again,” she confessed.

“Yves Saint Laurent” runs until Aug. 29 at the Petit Palais.

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