By  on June 5, 2008

MONTREAL — As preparations begin for the funeral today of Yves Saint Laurent, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts is mounting the first retrospective spanning 40 years of couture creations of the legendary designer's maison.

The retrospective takes on greater significance following the death of Saint Laurent Sunday, at the age of 71, from brain cancer. Whether his death has boosted attendance is difficult to say, according to Catherine Guex, director of public relations at the Montreal museum, where the exhibit opened May 29.

"It's been busy from Day One, so I think it's too early to say whether his death is affecting attendance at this stage, although more than 1,900 people came to the exhibit on Tuesday, which is a lot for the beginning of the week," said Guex.

There is no change to the exhibit, but to mark Saint Laurent's death, admission will be free on Friday and guests can sign a book of condolences that will be given to the Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent Foundation when the exhibit closes.

The show will continue until Sept. 28 before moving on to the de Young Museum in San Francisco from Nov. 1 to March 1, 2009.

The show is the first co-production between the two museums and features 148 accessorized creations as well as drawings and videos from the foundation in Paris, which houses a collection of more than 5,000 ensembles and 15,000 objects that trace the history of the House of Yves Saint Laurent.

The exhibit is divided into four main themes: "The Stroke of a Pencil," where the designer's ideas are traced from the original sketch; "The Yves Saint Laurent Revolution," where he dresses women in the style of male power through tailored pantsuits and his iconic le smoking; "The Palette," where the designer dared to use colors in ways that broke tradition, and "Lyrical Sources," which explores the historical, literary and artistic influences that were interpreted by Saint Laurent — from Mondrian and Poliakoff in 1965, the Pop Art dresses in 1966, Picasso in 1979 and Braque in 1988.

The exhibit also reveals the influence Saint Laurent's travels had on his designs, with different pieces from countries such as Morocco, China, India, Africa and Russia."Why present Yves Saint Laurent in Montreal? Quite simply because the work of one of the 20th century's greatest couturiers is a thing of great beauty," said museum director Nathalie Bondil. "The poetry of each of his creations reflects this man's incredible sensitivity and vast cultural knowledge. Personally, I was blown away, if you will excuse the expression, when I first saw the storage areas of the foundation...and I still am.

"Another aspect of Yves Saint Laurent's work that touches me is his desire to empower women day and night," Bondil said. "He appropriated masculine codes of dress, creating a wardrobe for modern women who were stepping out of traditional roles. This was in stark contrast to the practice of depicting women as Barbie dolls designed to sell products. But above all, he idealized the beauty of all his models, whatever their ethnic background or the color of their skin (he was the first to use a black model), and his inspiration was nourished by a beautiful soul. Today, more than ever, young designers are reexamining his complex work."

Some of YSL's creations on display include a cream shantung dress with a black silk rose made for Princess Grace of Monaco in 1964, an evening ensemble and necklace made for Nan Kempner, a 1971 camouflage print dress from the World War II era and 1973 flannel pants with tricot top.

"The camouflage dress caused quite a scandal, because it reminded people of the war," explained guest curator Florence Müeller, a professor at the Institut Français de la Mode in Paris. "And the flannel pants also caused a stir because they were unheard of in those days."

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