Byline: Brid Costello / Chantal Goupil

PARIS — Yves Saint Laurent couture is coming out of the closet.
The new Yves Saint Laurent Museum inaugurated its first exhibition Thursday, culling from its vast archives 21 ensembles alongside their toiles to underscore the show’s title, “Moments of Creation.”
Pierre Berge, co-founder of the house, gave the media a guided tour of the installation, the first that will be open to the public. Since it opened earlier this year, the museum has welcomed students and researchers on a by-appointment basis.
Designed with consumers in mind, the exhibition walks visitors through the couture design process, showing how garments materialize from the designer’s sketches through to the toile, or first cut of the design.
“This is the first exhibit, so we are starting at the beginning,” explained Olivier Segot, general manager of the YSL couture house. “If you look at the [haute couture] dress, you start with the toile.”
According to Berge, the toile allows the designer the freedom to experiment, to invent and innovate.
The exhibit begins with a shirtdress from the 1983 winter collection and ends with items from the most recent collection for winter 2000. “It’s an educational exhibit,” said Segot. “Everyone knows about haute couture dresses, but no one can imagine the work that goes into them before they are finished.”
Berge began archiving YSL creations in 1961 and the museum, located at 11 Rue de Cambrai on the northern outskirts of town, is the culmination of that pet project. To date, the museum has collected 5,000 ensembles, including Rive Gauche ready-to-wear, shoes and accessories. He also kept the order books for the couture collections so that he can trace designs back to their buyers. The group has also been actively searching at auctions for pieces missing from the collection.
“I don’t feel nostalgia when I look at this,” Berge said. “I decided long ago to change memories into projects. When one day [Yves Saint Laurent] dies, then maybe it could be perceived as nostalgia.”
The museum, financed by the YSL group, is focused solely on the creations of Saint Laurent. Designs by Tom Ford, who took over rtw this season, or Alber Elbaz, who designed three Rive Gauche collections, will never be included in the museum’s exhibitions, Berge noted.
Visitors to the exhibit are also invited to delve into the world of Saint Laurent through the museum’s library. Besides books on fashion history and the designer, visitors can delve into the archives through a Web site, accessible only at the museum. The Internet site contains photographs of each of the designer’s creations along with a description. A database of press clippings is also in the works and should be finished by the end of next June. Four full-time staff members have been compiling the company’s archives for three years and are expected to continue the work for another six months.
Meanwhile, the exhibition of outifts, according to Berge, is likely to be visited mainly by fashion students and executives in the business when it opens to the public on Tuesday. It runs through January. Exhibitions will change two to three times a year and will focus on different themes, such as accessories and capes.
While Berge stressed that the exhibit is not a retrospective, he did note that Saint Laurent’s contract will finish in 2006, when the designer will turn 70.
“Nobody knows how long Yves Saint Laurent will continue in haute couture,” he said.
Meanwhile, Berge, who himself turns 70 next month, took the opportunity to squelch speculation that he will be changing careers from fashion to politics by running as the Communist candidate for the role of mayor of Paris’s sixth quarter. Surrounded by dresses worth countless thousands, he quipped: “I don’t think I would be credible as a Communist.”