PARIS — If it weren’t for Yves Saint Laurent, the world would certainly be a shabbier place: Scores of major designers from around the world credit him with inspiring them to enter fashion in the first place.
This story first appeared in the June 3, 2008 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Such accolades, along with expressions of grief, poured in Monday as news of Saint Laurent’s death at age 71 spread through the industry and made headlines around the world.
Funeral services are scheduled for Thursday afternoon in Paris, with French President Nicolas Sarkozy expected to attend. Pierre Bergé, the late designer’s longtime business partner, said the service is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. at the Eglise Saint-Roch at 296 Rue Saint-Honoré. Afterward, Saint Laurent will be cremated, and his ashes will rest at his famous Majorelle Garden in Marrakech, Morocco, a city the late designer considered a refuge throughout his career.
Bergé said Saint Laurent died at 11:10 p.m. Sunday, surrounded by longtime muse Betty Catroux, himself and Philippe Mougnier, who had taken care of Saint Laurent recently.
“He didn’t suffer at all,” said Bergé. “He didn’t know what was happening to him.”
Saint Laurent is survived by his mother, Lucienne Mathieu Saint Laurent, and sisters Michelle and Brigitte.
Bergé said Saint Laurent was diagnosed with brain cancer in April 2007, and his health had quickly deteriorated since.
Saint Laurent endured multiple health problems over the years, including severe bouts of depression. Right before he retired in January 2002, the couturier broke both of his arms when he fell during a trip to Palermo, Sicily. He never completely recovered normal use of his arms and bemoaned his inability to indulge in one of his favorite pastimes — sketching. Last year, Saint Laurent was admitted to the American Hospital in Paris to recover from an undisclosed illness.
With his declining health, he became more and more reclusive, eventually not even attending the exhibitions at the Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent Foundation established after his retirement, including the most recent show there dedicated to Moroccan dress. Bergé said Saint Laurent had suffered mentally since he decided to retire, despite the designer’s continued insistence that he had no regrets over the decision.
“It was extremely tough on him,” he said. “Fashion was the big passion of his life.”
Bergé, who met Saint Laurent after the designer presented his first collection chez Christian Dior in 1958, said he remained impressed by Saint Laurent since the first moment. “He was exceptional,” he said. “With Chanel, Yves is the only other couturier of the last century who transcended the merely aesthetic in fashion and penetrated social territory. He opened up fashion with an extraordinary youthfulness.”
Catroux, who had been at Saint Laurent’s side on an almost daily basis recently, said his death left her desperate. “I always felt that he was special,” she said, remembering how Saint Laurent “hit on her” in a Paris nightclub and set off the beginning of their lifelong friendship. “He chose me,” said Catroux. “We did everything together; he was all of my life and gave me everything.”
Here’s what designers, executives, models, muses, politicians, socialites and others had to say about one of the greatest designers in fashion history:
John B. Fairchild, contributing editor at large of WWD and former chairman and editorial director: “Assez de dire: Saint Laurent, Chanel, Balenciaga, Dior — that’s the French couture.”
Giorgio Armani: “I don’t want to remember Yves Saint Laurent just as the foremost and truest designer of our time. Instead, I will always remember him from a private visit that I made to his museum-like home in Marrakech 20 years ago. I arrived with my sister in a run-down minibus rented from a travel agency wearing shorts and a T-shirt, which I could see immediately made him feel somewhat perplexed as he stepped out to greet us in a most elegant pin-striped double-breasted suit. After just half an hour’s conversation, however, he was talking to me like you would speak to an old friend taking me into his confidence. Then, on saying our goodbyes, he urged me to return to see him again soon.”
Bernard Arnault, chairman and ceo, LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton: “Monsieur Saint Laurent was the embodiment of French haute couture for half a century. He designed for a woman who reconciled the two fundamental truths, which always guided him in his personal life: freedom and elegance. I will never forget his shining debut at Christian Dior where his talents were first unveiled. His humility was the mark of his genius.”
John Galliano: “Yves Saint Laurent was a name that I ‘met’ through my studies. I would spend hours poring through magazines, studying his work, his collections, his style. When I moved to Paris, we met on occasion, but it was only ever a nod or a hello. I feel, like many, I got to know him through his work at Dior as well as for his own label. Yves Saint Laurent has influenced everyone! It seems impossible he was only 21 when he was given the responsibility of taking over from Mr. Dior and, in my opinion, he more than surpassed expectations. Mr. Saint Laurent has lived through and shaped the face that fashion has today in my work as well as everyone from the salons to the street. He was extraordinary. He raised the bar, and he gave women the option of masculine and feminine, strength and elegance, and for such a gentle figure he caused a revolution! He was kind of the benchmark of how to blend revolution, innovation and elegance. He to many people was the very essence of Paris.”
Yohji Yamamoto: “I lost my god in fashion. He was such a treasure….”
Jean Paul Gaultier: “He was my idol, a model to follow, both for his creativity and his rigorous, very Parisian clothes, but also for his own personal elegance. He synthesized the social revolution of women at the end of the Sixties and was the first to mix genres. He created a new vocabulary for the modern woman’s wardrobe and was precursory in measurement and accuracy. It is to him that I owe my vocation. Despite his departure, his work remains, and is still tangible in the world of today.”
Loulou de la Falaise: De la Falaise was introduced to Yves Saint Laurent in 1968 through her friend Fernando Sanchez. “I was 21, and a swinging London hippie dressed in Ossie Clark. The truth is that what Yves found attractive in me was the fantasy, over-the-top bedecked look. Betty Catroux was the one who inspired all of his mannish looks, I’ve always been the gypsy, [bohemian] influence.”
Of places that most remind her of him, she said that Saint Laurent always liked to pop into churches. “He had an amazing survival instinct and an amazing flair for what was going on in the world even though he lived in a white tower….He had this nervous energy. I have so many pleasurable memories, many of them based on everyday life, of trying to lighten up the atmosphere, always look good or invent something. Thirty years is a hell of a time. He was also like my family, my blood. I can remember going to Deauville with Yves before he had a house there and him being exasperated by the contents of my suitcase. We went to the fish market, where he bought a tin of those pins with colored baubles that one uses to eat snails and he used them to decorate one of my T-shirts. It wasn’t very comfortable, but it looked great!”
Hedi Slimane: “Yves Saint Laurent had this natural and peaceful authority, something like grace, a poised aura I had then seen nowhere else in fashion. I would never have become a designer if it were not for him. It was a silent education. The saddest thing was to leave him and Pierre Bergé after three years of happiness. He had been protective all these years, and I always felt I was designing for him alone….He was an incredible influence on me, far beyond the design education I somehow got from him alone. I shared this idea that fashion starts with a movement, an allure: elusive, defined through perfect proportions. Saint Laurent created his own style, a definite law in fashion, and evolved around it. Saint Laurent may have been vulnerable, but to my understanding, there was no doubt in his design, but rather a natural authority. Yves Saint Laurent was a legend that belonged to everyone.”
Jeanne Doutreleau, “Victoire,” model: “Was he shy? Yes and no. He preferred to withdraw into himself when faced with anxiety, but when not anxious, he was very exuberant and not at all shy. When Yves wasn’t well-known working at Christian Dior, he was sure of his talent and he was happy. It was only when his reputation took off that he started to doubt himself….Working with him was marvelously stressful, but he was a nice young man at the same time, so he was gay. The man he became was more somber. His younger and older selves were really two different personages. He continued to make beautiful collections, but he was no longer alive [as such]…He [was nostalgic for] the days when he, Karl Lagerfeld and I would hang out together. We had such fun….All women loved him. My favorite piece by [Saint Laurent] was a houndstooth jacket that I wore for his house’s 40th anniversary. He loved dressing me and I loved to be dressed by him. I wore the veil, and I wore the heart.”
Tom Ford: “Yves Saint Laurent left two legacies, first a very great one as a fashion designer. He had incredible intuition and, for 20 years in the Sixties and Seventies, he drove women’s fashion. He was also a great businessman, which has been underplayed. I think he was the great business mind, not Pierre [Bergé]. Yves had a great intuition, an inner compass that would guide him in everything, from the right place to dine to which people would serve you the best to how to make the best of an opportunity. He was incredibly intuitive and that didn’t end with design.
“[While designing for the house] I watched him maneuver things to get what he wanted. In the very beginning, I had some dinners alone with him. We talked about business, and I saw how smart and aware he was of the business side. I’m not sure the public roles are accurate. I think there was some good cop/bad cop going on. I think Pierre really was doing Yves’ bidding.”
On Saint Laurent’s negative comments about Ford’s work for the house: “It’s always disappointing when someone you admire so much says something negative, but I understood it. Honestly, I have tremendous admiration for Yves. He was a great, great fashion designer and a great, astute businessman. I have so much respect for him. In the Sixties and Seventies he was just it.”
Ralph Lauren: “I always admired Saint Laurent for his complete devotion to fashion and for his vision. He will be remembered as one of the great designers of his time.”
Naomi Campbell: “I spent lots of great moments with Yves Saint Laurent; I did so many campaigns with him. What was funny was when I first arrived at the house, I was a baby and I used to play on that. He would ask me if I liked what I was wearing and I would always tell him the truth, such as I don’t like the red lipstick because it makes me feel old. But he had a great sense of humor. He didn’t miss a thing. He was very smart. He had a twinkle in his eye. It feels really surreal for me to be doing the fall campaign without him, but I heard he was happy that I was back in the campaign. He was such an important designer for women of color. I have so many fun memories of seeing him in Morocco. I remember around three years ago bumping into him in Marrakech walking his dog, and I was so happy to see him there. I found him fascinating, he didn’t say much, but so much came from his aura.”
Christian Lacroix: “I can still remember the veritable shock I felt as a child (I was six years old) looking at the cover of “Paris Match” showing Yves Saint Laurent between the short wedding dress of his first collection for Dior and a red garment bag. It was simply a shock of modernity, palpable for a child because it represented an era, the beginning of a new world, ahead of its time even because it was March 1, 1958, and it already heralded the birth of the Sixties. We didn’t meet very often and only had rare but intense discussions. He insisted on the importance of longevity and the suffering of creation. The memories I keep personally in mind — the shoulders, large pants or dotted, flowery or lace dresses, a Forties boater hat — it’s actually the image of his mother, Madame Saint Laurent, that her son has propagated during nearly half a century.”
Bethy Lagardère: “It is an immense loss for France and the world. Each season, we felt the same emotion, there weren’t highs and lows. He gave us the power to live differently, to be stronger. I met him in 1974. I was presented to be a house model. After a few days, I decided to quit. It’s a decision I’ve always regretted. He did many things first. He had a lot of audacity. He dared all, introducing women of color; he launched models’ careers. Yet while he was so daring in his public life, in private he was completely the opposite. He was the most gentle, kind man. I saw him often in Tangiers, which was always a pleasure. He showed me his garden there: simple and elegant.”
Carla Sarkozy, first lady of France: “My heart is broken when I think of Monsieur Saint Laurent. He was an artist and an exceptional human being. He enhanced not only beauty, but also the strength of women. It is a great honor to have worked with him.”
Alber Elbaz: “He was [at once] a myth and someone I worked with. Maybe he is no longer with us, but his work is still with us. He changed not only fashion, but the way women dressed and that will never die. He invented today’s concept of ready-to-wear when he launched Rive Gauche. [Then with] the use of art and music and inspiration from everyday life, he turned fashion into such a fantasy reality.”
François Pinault and François-Henri Pinault, ceo of PPR: “It is with great emotion that [we] have learned of the death of Yves Saint Laurent. With it, French fashion and indeed the world lose a genius. A singular couturier who carried a revolutionary vision of fashion to the highest level, Yves Saint Laurent at once maintained traditions of excellence and invented new codes of French elegance. He invented, revised and ultimately transformed all at the service of a passion: to make women radiate and to expose their beauty and mystery. More than a great designer, in reality an immense artist has left us. Elevating fashion to a new form of art, Yves Saint Laurent expressed the evolution and the revolutions of society through his creations.”
Vivienne Westwood: “I am deeply touched by the death of Yves Saint Laurent, touched because he pushed his talent to the limit. He worked so hard, even though it looked so simple: it was flawless, he never failed to enhance the beauty of women.”
Nicolas Sarkozy, president of France: “Yves Saint Laurent died last night. With him, it’s one of the biggest names in fashion who is disappearing, the first one to rise haute couture to the level of art, ensuring it a global influence. With his creative genius, his elegant and refined personality, discreet and distinguished, Yves Saint Laurent has marked a half-a-century of creation.”
Hubert de Givenchy: “I really admired him. He brought incredible youth and creativity to fashion. When he won the International Wool Secretariat prize, I was on the jury that awarded a prize to Saint Laurent. It was in my ateliers that we made his winning dress. He was someone extremely cordial with a lot of humility and great talent. He gave so much that he was often tormented. He always brought youth and newness to fashion and his dresses were incredibly well made. And like all artists, he had moments that were stronger than others. But everything he did had great refinement and great elegance. His is a name that will last.”
Comtesse Jacqueline de Ribes: “Yves was far more than the genius grand couturier. He was a multifaceted artist. He also could have been a great poet, a painter, a writer. His incredible sensitivity made the world around him difficult to endure. For years, I have been the spoiled child of the house. If I wanted to change a sleeve or a length, Yves would always agree. When I was considering becoming a designer, he wrote to discourage me from entering ‘that rough world’ — he wanted to protect me from it. But he also was always so very encouraging. I was proud of his trust and his love.”
Donna Karan: “He was a world icon. Saint Laurent truly marked an era in fashion that was untapped before, one that reflected his passion, his love. He was always true to who he was, whether it was reflected in the tuxedo, fantasy, the masculine, the feminine. He was not afraid to experiment, to show his creative passion, every element that creates an icon. He took risks and was an inspiration for every designer. Yves Saint Laurent left a legacy that will last forever and ever.”
Diane von Furstenberg: “Yves Saint Laurent created that modern woman fantasy of the Parisienne and her elegance. He made those who wore his clothes feel like women. He inspired everyone.”
Donatella Versace: “Fashion has lost another icon, a revolutionary one. His style is forever an inspiration for everybody — it has been and it will be. When he left fashion, he left in such a classy way; you never heard much about him. He is one of fashion’s icons, but there’s still a mystery around him, which is rare.”
Oscar de la Renta: “Everything he did, he did beautifully — his taste, the way he decorated his houses. And it didn’t look like anyone else; it was pure Yves Saint Laurent. It’s so sad that with so much that life gave him, he could not enjoy it longer.”
Marc Jacobs: “[Pierre Bergé] introduced me to Mr. Saint Laurent. It was a huge thing for me. He had always been my idol and hero of all of them. I could go on about other designers important to me, but he was the only [living] one, the only [one] I could see and meet and know of through other people, whether the various Saint Laurent muses — Betty Catroux and Loulou de la Falaise — or seeing the feeling of this world he created that’s still very much alive. Since living in Paris, I still felt his presence. I can’t attribute it to anything specific, but there is a Saint Laurent feeling. He did something very few did — develop a style. It’s a bit difficult to define because it doesn’t come down to a strand of pearls, a gold chain and a quilted bag. But there’s a chic, a certain hedonism, a sex appeal, something that is very much a style that is very Saint Laurent, a presence that’s still there, whether the designer at the house is still there, whether [it be] Alber Elbaz, Stefano Pilati or Tom Ford.”
Vera Wang: “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 fell in love with fashion because of Yves Saint Laurent.”
Alexander McQueen: “He is the reason why I am in fashion. To me, fashion should predict the time we live in. He did this in the Sixties and Seventies: Pure genius, and a man that I always revered and tried to emulate.”
Stefano Gabbana, of Dolce & Gabbana: “I regret never having met Yves Saint Laurent, who not only wrote a piece of fashion history, but was very inspirational to us to the point that his aesthetic spurred us to start doing men’s wear looks for women, starting from the Sicilian tailoring of many years ago to wide-leg pants and the short colored furs. To me, the most representative image of YSL was a photo by Helmut Newton that featured two women, one dressed with a real men’s wear look and the other with a more feminine version of tailoring. One was wearing black, the other white. Whenever we start designing a new collection, books on his fashion are always on our table.”
Stella McCartney: “Yves Saint Laurent was every designer’s hero. Between him and Helmut Newton’s photography of women in his work, he epitomized modern women. I always dreamt of being an Yves Saint Laurent woman. Spot on.”
Terry de Gunzburg, creator of By Terry: “I have been enormously influenced by his level of exigency, quality and perfection. Everything he did was supernatural, something that transformed reality and that transformed the imaginary. He had this capacity of being able to anticipate the needs of everyone. And that influences my day-to-day, even today. He was a master of color, of equilibrium, of volume — everything. I have also been influenced by the treatment he gave to color, his capacity of mixing black, brown and navy blue, or vibrant orange, bright pink and vermilion. It is still in my brain. I worked with him for 15 years, creating four makeup collections per year, and for each one I had to create a new red lipstick. It was important to wear red lipstick when you went to meetings with him. If you didn’t, it was like saying good night to your parents without brushing your teeth first. “
Sonia Rykiel: “He was a big artist and was incredibly elegant. He understood fashion and had a sublime presence. He carried the French flag far and we were all very proud to be behind him. He was very shy, but had a crazy talent. I loved his way with women; he caressed them with his voice and his regard. He once said, ‘The most beautiful thing that a woman can wear is a man’s arms, and if she doesn’t have a man, then it’s an Yves Saint Laurent dress,’ and I loved that!”
Rykiel recalled seeing Yves Saint Laurent around three years ago seated in the restaurant Le Grand Véfour. “I went over to kiss him, there was a candle on the table and as I bent to kiss him, my hair caught on fire. I found the way he swept my hair out of the flame just wonderful. He was a big actor, artist and couturier.”
François Lesage: “I served Monsieur Yves Saint Laurent for more than 35 years. He was a very shy man, so nice and well educated. He was a monument in fashion. He had such elegance and never stooped to trends. He was so open to everything, even to what some of his competitors were doing. How could Yves Saint Laurent have created the Mondrian dress if Courrèges hadn’t been there? But [Saint Laurent] always [did it his way]. I like to say that there is no epidural for creativity. If you don’t suffer, it’s not your child. He was alone and he suffered, but in the end, the baby was delivered. He said few words, but what was going on inside was so intense that a twinkle of his eye was enough.”
Josie Natori: “To me, he’s always been the icon of fashion. I was fortunate enough to own couture pieces and to me, this man is a genius. Anything that I’ve bought from — my goodness — 1981, I can still wear today. I think he was a master of couture and I went to his very last show. When he said couture was dead, [his work] really was couture, and [couture] was dead after he left, in my mind. It’s another era that has passed. “
Carolina Herrera: “I think it’s a very sad thing for the fashion world because Saint Laurent has inspired almost every designer I know. He inspired everyone. He was a genius using colors. He was eccentric. He had a lot of fantasy. He was a real, cultivated man. He was very well-bred and that all shows in his work. His fantasy, the way he worked. He was unbelievable. I am a great fan of Yves. I knew him for many years. And I tell you I have been inspired by his work all my life. His collections, they were classic and he never changed his style and they were always the best. So that’s a real designer.”
Tomas Maier, Bottega Veneta: “For me, he was an icon and the primary reason I decided to move to Paris and attend the Chambre Syndicale. It is the end of a big era and very sad.”
Pat Cleveland: “We would hang out near Café de Flore and he would be, like, very French and I would just sit between him and Fernando Sanchez having my cup of tea laying back on the couch, relaxed. I just remember him in that easygoing, late afternoon way. And then when I did work with him, it was like he was locked up in a business world, and to me he was such a big dreamer that if you were in his presence, everything else would disappear. He was so intensely artistic that his energy would just make the whole room disappear, and when he looked at me, he would always breathe very deeply before he attacked. It was like he would attack you with colors and fabrics and things and tie you and touch you and move you around and — ‘Voila!,’ he would say. He always wore that white jacket, the designer’s jacket. I thought that was funny because at some point, he looked like a doctor to me and I thought, ‘Oh he’s just going to make me look beautiful. He’s the doctor of beauty.'”
Isaac Mizrahi: “Yves Saint Laurent were the first three words I learned to say. He showed us the meaning of the words FRENCH and INSPIRATION. There will never be a mystique like that again.”
Francisco Costa, Calvin Klein Collection: “It’s the end of an era. He was one of the most influential designers in the world. Mr. Saint Laurent revolutionized modern fashion with his understanding of youth, sophistication and relevance.”
Michael Kors: “Virtually everything people think of as the modern, simple way of getting dressed started with Saint Laurent. Everyone talks about American sportswear, but it really was a Frenchman who invented it. He knew the time we lived in, and he really understood women.”
Narciso Rodriguez: “YSL was a great artist. He dominated his craft and fashion for his entire career. His legacy is incomparable.”
Chantal Roos, Gucci Group’s strategic adviser for fragrance and cosmetics: “It’s certainly been thanks to him that I continued my career developing cosmetics and fragrances. He gave me everything. At the beginning of 1976, I joined [Charles of the Ritz, the U.S. company that at the time owned the rights to Yves Saint Laurent Parfums] and started work on a new fragrance concept. The brief for the marketing people was that it was an oriental fragrance, and at the time, the great orientals were by Guerlain. In [Yves Saint Laurent’s] fashion, it was the days of orientalism. [At a meeting,] he immediately said, ‘I think we should call it Opium.’ Being young I said, ‘Why not?’ When we started working on the project, he not only gave us a name, but also that red-brown Chinese lacquer. He was involved in everything. The shoot was at his house, and he made a special dress for Jerry Hall. Working with someone so passionate and so demanding, you immediately learn everything. You can never relax. Anxiety will always be your best friend. He always asked for the best, and people would try to give him their best. He had a great sense of humanity.”
Carolyn Roehm: “I remember the first time I met him. Oscar [de la Renta] had invited me to a dinner with Yves and Pierre Bergé and Diana Vreeland. It wasn’t a very large dinner. I was young and I remember thinking, ‘God, I thought I was shy. But he is really shy.’ Since he was such a god from the time I was in college on, it was so surprising this man with this extra genius and talent would be so self-effacing.”
Blaine Trump: “Well, there was Saint Laurent and then there was who? I mean, he was so iconic and considered to be the master. It was just when you mentioned his name it was like the god of fashion.”
Christophe Girard, director of fashion strategy, LVMH, and deputy mayor of Paris: “Working with him was an opportunity and a privilege. He was always very professional and precise as he hated approximate people. He would pop into my office just to relax, not even speak. Life was a burden and sometimes a bore for him. He disliked people who spoke a lot. I think he liked silence. He could also be very funny. YSL was the best school you could dream of and the couple Bergé-Saint Laurent was very stimulating, as the house was not only a fashion house, but a house of creation beyond the clothes and the shows. You still see today his style in many designers’ collections.”
David Teboul, filmmaker, “5 Avenue Marceau”: “I worked with him for over three months, so I am very touched. His strength, obsession and the capacity to re-create shapes were amazing. Once he was very disappointed because he did not get the specific red he wanted for one of his dresses. He was brought down, he was so obsessed by perfection he could get sick. I’ve never seen such extreme search for perfection.”
Robert Polet, ceo, Gucci Group: “This genius creator challenged codes and norms in reinventing French elegance and thereby established Paris as a grand capital of fashion. His death leaves us with a great void, but also a sublime heritage.”
Jean-Paul Agon, ceo of L’Oréal: “Mr. Saint Laurent was a fashion genius who revolutionized women’s fashion and beauty. He was an exceptional individual who transmitted his inspiration, passion and aesthetic vision to the entire world.”
Hanae Mori: “I sincerely regret the passing of Monsieur Yves Saint Laurent. I loved his fashion, especially in the Sixties and Seventies, and my love for wearing pantsuits was his influence. I believe that he has changed the lifestyle of women of the 20th century.”
Dries van Noten: “This is terrible news for fashion. Yves Saint Laurent’s legacy is huge. If you want it or not, his influence is there. His vision was so strong, that he really was able to change a lot in fashion.”
Bryan Bradley: “He changed the way that everyone, at least in the Western world, considered what clothing was. Even if you didn’t know his designs, you knew who he was and what he stood for. That’s the genius of Saint Laurent.”
Sir Paul Smith: “It’s difficult to define exactly why he was so important, but to me, I think it was because especially at the beginning of his career, he was so modern in every way.”
Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez, Proenza Schouler: “Yves Saint Laurent has always been a huge source of inspiration for us. His passing is incredibly sad. One can only dream of revolutionizing an industry so completely on his-her own terms as he did. His groundbreaking decision to take street culture and translate it for a rarified world is something that still resonates today. The courage to be so bold and original is every designer’s dream.”
Phoebe Philo: “Yves Saint Laurent liberated women’s ready-to-wear, he redefined the entire fashion industry and gave women clothes that enabled them [to have] more sexual freedom and power. He was the first to inspire women wearing men’s wear; a style and attitude that has influenced me and feels as contemporary and relevant to women now as it did when it he first did it.”
Phillip Lim, 3.1 Phillip Lim: “Even without being conscious of it, my whole experience with fashion, the things I like and relate to without knowing his history, I just realize, Wow, his style, his influence has seeped into my subconscious like air, like oxygen.”
Thakoon Panichgul: “When I think of Yves Saint Laurent, I think of the Helmut Newton picture, obviously, of the tuxedo. To me, that is the epitome of French chic. It defines what French chic is today even. I think that fashion was then much cooler than it is today. The lifestyle was lived quite well by Saint Laurent. And I think that no one really does that today. It’s a fantasy that was lived.”
Derek Lam: “Everyone would say his work is so influential. I think that, unfortunately, outside of the industry they think that Saint Laurent is what they see now. But so much of the vocabulary of what we talk about in contemporary fashion started with him. My favorite was when he used to do the simplest things, and I can see the amazing craftsmanship and the understanding of a woman’s body and the understanding of what women want to project in their clothing, which is so inspiring. I think he really gave power to women and power through clothing — that’s going to be the greatest legacy. It’s sad because he is really one of the very last of the greats.”
Peter Som: “I never knew him personally. But it’s actually funny — my one and only couture show I ever saw was in 1982. My family and I were in Paris in the summer and we snuck into his couture show. That to me was a real amazing moment because growing up, he created worlds that I wanted to be a part of. There was the Spanish collection, the Russian collection, these femme fatales. And he went from the most embellished Russian outfits to the simplest perfect smoking suit. I don’t use this word very often, but he really was a genius and he sort of represented, still does, the ultimate goal of creating a world beauty. He’s so iconic and so important. I’m sure none of us will ever forget.”
Kate and Laura Mulleavy, Rodarte: “This is a tremendous loss. Yves Saint Laurent defined modern style and his legacy will live on forever.”
Christopher Bailey, creative director of Burberry: “Yves Saint Laurent was truly a visionary and one of the greatest designers ever. He contributed so much to fashion and will continue to inspire people for years to come.”
Joan Burstein, founder of Browns, London: “This is the end of an amazing era. He was a visionary, an icon who lived a sad, but amazing life that could never be replicated — he was one of a kind. [There can be] no replacement for Yves. He was a great, great creator, he helped change the way a generation of women would dress and feel.”
Giles Deacon: “He’s been a huge influence on me. He was one of the main reasons I wanted to design clothes. There was something so unique and timeless about them that they still stand up today as amazing examples of pieces of design.”
Philip Treacy: “His clothes were the most impressive I’ve ever seen on a catwalk, [for] their simplicity and drama. His shows were the best and most intelligent I’d seen. He was a designer’s designer: [the] clothes had one singular message.”
Renée “Zizi” Jeanmaire, ballet dancer: “When he was making my costumes, I would stay in his atelier to try on the dresses, which was a privilege: not everybody was allowed into his atelier. I met him when he was at Dior after he saw me in a ballet created by my husband [renowned French choreographer Roland Mouret]. He made me my first Dior dress, a superb white dress for an evening gala. He knew what suited me. He had so much imagination, everything you see now, he did first. He had this marvelous gift, which was to create theater costumes as well as he created haute couture. He was charming in private, everyone adored him. A lot of people must be crying today. He was certainly happier at his couture house than when he left it. He closed up in himself. He was a great friend: he did a thousand things for us.”
Marvin Traub of Marvin Traub Associates and former Bloomingdale’s chairman and ceo: “I remember in the early Seventies when Dick Solomon [then ceo of Lanvin-Charles of the Ritz] gave a big party at 21 for Yves and Pierre. Bloomingdale’s was launching a shop-in-shop, and at that time Yves’ English was limited. My French was limited and Lee’s French was limited. My wife started talking to Yves. Then Yves said, ‘Let’s try this in English. My English is better than your French.’ Yves had a sense of humor, but people didn’t always see that side.”
Burt Tansky, chairman and ceo, Neiman Marcus Group: “I remember when I was a senior vice president and general merchandise manager at I. Magnin. I saw his Doctor Zhivago collection, which is what we called it. This man was a genius. He put together these fabulous outfits that aroused the audience to the point where the women were just enthralled. I even saw some crying. When it was all over and he took a bow, the women were just emotionally drained. It was spectacular. He really shaped and reshaped fashion.”
Ira Neimark, author, former Bergdorf Goodman chairman: “In 1976, Bergdorf was bringing the couture back to New York — three collections, YSL, Dior and Givenchy. Couture had not been carried in New York for many years. We were in his showroom in 1976, with Bergé, and Yves came out from his workroom, wearing a smock. I was completely surprised because I knew he very reticent. He said, ‘Thank you for bringing the couture back to New York. This is an awakening of fashion.’ I met him again at the French embassy for a party. There he was, standing downstairs alone. He was so introverted.”
Photographer Jerry Schatzberg, who shot behind-the-scenes at Saint Laurent’s first solo runway in Paris and whose new book is called “Paris 1962: Yves Saint Laurent and Christian Dior, The Early Collections”: “He was nervous. But from the photos I have of that day, you couldn’t see that he was nervous.”
Becca Cason Thrash: “My first job ever, in 1974, I was hired to assistant manage the YSL boutique at Sakowitz in Houston. I was totally green. I had no experience, but I had great enthusiasm and a love of Yves Saint Laurent. My mom wore his stuff. He was my idol. I met him one time. I was married to my first husband and I was at the Biennale. I said, ‘Mr. Saint Laurent, I wanted to introduce myself. I just thought you would want to know my very first job was working for you.’ And the whole time I was talking to him, he was kind of looking down. He was so shy, and me being from Texas, I’m sure my enthusiasm [was overwhelming]. Finally, in the end he said, ‘Thank you for taking the time to say hello.’
And then he paused and said, ‘Très chic. You are très chic.’ I lived by that. Mr. Saint Laurent thought I was chic, so I must be flawless.”
Lynn Wyatt: “I feel like he revolutionized female fashion in such a way as far as what is mainstream now was shocking then. I think his innate knowledge and mixture of colors was just unique to Yves. He mixed colors that no one would ever have thought of combining. He would line a jacket with a shocking fuchsia if the suit was a poison green. But it never would be bright. It was just subtle in such a way, the colors complemented each other. He was a creator all the time, having things he saw influence him like paintings and ballet and opera. He was very aware of his surroundings and reflected that in that clothing.”
Deeda Blair: “I remember one time at dinner I had a long talk with him and we both smoke. And I took out a little tiny black heart-shaped lighter. It was nothing. And he said, ‘oh, how lovely.’ And I gave it to him, just like that [because] I had another one. Well, the next day I had a bouquet that could barely fit in the room.
“There were women who looked so unbelievably chic in his pantsuits. There was a certain thing to it: other people had done pantsuits. But his always had the most beautiful blouses — whether they were chiffon of silk satin — and then there was always a handkerchief in the pocket. He had the most wondrous imagination, but it was combined with an artistry and an exactitude.”
Front Page News
PARIS — The French media on Monday paid tribute to a man described by Le Figaro as “the greatest couturier in the world.” Devoting its front page to a portrait of the late Yves Saint Laurent, the paper said, “He was already, while alive, a myth.”
Television news here led with the story, with public broadcaster France 2 devoting 10 minutes of its lunchtime bulletin to the designer. More than 500 articles had appeared in the Francophone press online by the end of the day.
“The couturier leaves a mark which ranks him among the greatest artists,” was Le Monde’s headline, which devoted its front page and four full pages to Saint Laurent. “Saint Laurent, a friend to women,” declared Le Nouvel Observateur.
Left-wing daily Libération, meanwhile, described Saint Laurent the revolutionary, recalling how, in May 1968, protesters in Saint-Germain-des-Prés spotted a Rolls Royce and decided to attack it as a symbol of capitalism. The car belonged to Saint Laurent, whose reaction is said to have been: “They must not have known who I am, to have done so.”
A flood of traffic to the Web site of the Foundation Pierre Bergé Yves Saint Laurent caused it to crash repeatedly on Monday.
Meanwhile in the U.K., news of Saint Laurent’s death had filtered through to even the most mainstream breakfast television shows and was announced repeatedly during half-hourly news bulletins. Most of London’s broadsheet newspapers, including The Times, The Independent and The Guardian, carried full-page stories chronicling the designer’s life Monday, all within the first few pages. Meanwhile, London’s tabloids, often preoccupied with local celebrities, all published sizable stories on Saint Laurent’s death, with the Daily Mirror calling the designer “the man who never went out of fashion.”