Observations by Yves Saint Laurent as told to WWD and its sister publication W magazine in scores of interviews through the years.

This story first appeared in the June 3, 2008 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

“How do I create clothes? I put my ideas on paper, which are later made up in toile and revised by me, if necessary. My best ideas come in the morning, when I wake up — and in absolutely quiet surroundings. My idea is ‘woman’ in general, and a collection must fit all types.”
— Yves Saint Laurent, 1957

“Art is a very big word for couture. It’s a métier like any other, but a poetic métier.” — 1963

“I don’t think that the round woman is the modern woman. The woman today has bones — she is nervous. The woman of the 19th century was round. C’est fini the round. It is for Renoir.” — 1966

“One thing you can be sure of, I’ll not finish my career doing couture as I’m doing it now.” — 1968

“Real fashion today comes from the young people manning the streets — those between 30 and 35. The difference between day and evening clothes is outdated. The new fashion freedom permits people to be as they are or as they want to be — to go to dinner, for instance, as they were in the morning in black jersey, or anything else. My new collection is based on the idea of the suit — the practical, modern, easy world of the suit. Not the suit as we’ve known it…a suit that will look different with a skirt or pants. And pants with coats are part of our life.” — 1968

“So they have crowned me king. Look what happened to all the other kings in France.” — 1968

“Recent political events, the reaction of young people to fashion and the way of life today make the haute couture a relic of the past. I do not want to find myself in the past — or in a stronghold cut off from everything. — 1968

“First nights at the theater…life on a yacht — all things like that belong to a society that no longer means anything…a society that is no longer à la mode. The Social Ladies are no longer significant.” — 1968

“I have always done black. I don’t do ‘message’ couture.” — 1968

“The big difference between couture and ready-to-wear is not design. It is the fabrics, the handwork and the fittings. The act of creation is the same.” — 1968

“In the future, men and women will dress more and more alike. I want to create clothes for women like men’s clothes.” — 1968

“It’s démodé to expect to see a revolution each time — each collection.” — 1969

“The drama is that there are so many stupid rich people. Luxury — so few know how to use it and make it respectable.” — 1970

“I want to see elegant women…women aware that they are women. Finished are the hippie things…all those bits of folklore…those scarves. The street is terrifying now. Horrible.” — 1970

“Look at all that advertising — you must buy these shoes to go with this bag to go with that belt. Such advertising takes people for imbeciles. The results? The young don’t shop in the big stores anymore.” — 1970

“I did not think that in a profession as free as fashion that one could meet so many people so narrow-minded and reactionary, petty people paralyzed by taboos. But I am also very stimulated by this scandal because I know that which shocks is new.” — February 1971, in reaction to universally scathing reviews of his spring couture collection.

“Women look like they’ve been working on the railroad too long.” — 1971

“In spite of what people say, I believe I will save the couture and not kill it by making it return to its original meaning, which is privacy, rarity and quietness.” — 1971

“I adore rtw. It’s alive, it’s quick, it’s daring. The challenge is to make a raincoat that looks just as good on a girl of 15 as on a woman of 60.” — 1971

“For the first time, I feel liberated. I began to feel boxed in. In the couture, you strive for one put-together look. But women don’t want that studied look today.” — 1971

“Everyone else is copying me, so I am copying myself.” — 1973

“Pants are simply not important anymore. There are only jeans today.” — 1976

“Maybe I am ill, but are you so well every day of the year?”

— 1977, denying published reports that he was too ill to design his own collection.

“Hats are amusing….They are always droll, tongue-in-cheek. At night, the amusing is essential.” — 1978

“I have said before that the most beautiful makeup of a woman is passion. But cosmetics are easier to buy.” — 1978

“There is a feeling of frustration in fashion with things that only last a season and die. I try, as I advance, to make something that will last, that will be passed from one generation to another.” — 1978

“It’s on my shoulders that the work hangs. After all, I couldn’t do it without the house, the ateliers. The ateliers are vital. But it is my responsibility to create. And working on a collection, I imagine what it must be like for a writer trying to write a novel, or a director making a film….The more ideas you have, the worse it is.” — 1978

“Now that I’ve reached maturity, at 42, in my work, it’s the work that possesses me.” — 1978

“Humor is the vital element. My message is humor combined with total refinement.” — 1978

“For two or three years, I have dreamed of opening a department store called Yves Saint Laurent where everything I make is sold together. And I would design the building, the interior, the furnishings for the store, the logos, everything. That’s the future.” — 1978

“The one thing I lack in my life is to live. In my youth, I never discovered life. Life is to be lived when one is young, and truly, I’ve never lived.” — 1978

“I’m bored — and angry — with people who just design clothes for the runway. It’s a massive deception, and one a lot of people have fallen for. Some of the Paris designers are doing two collections each season — one for the runway and another for the showroom. I think that belittles the idea of fashion and soils everyone in a bizarre, unamusing joke.” — 1979

“One can’t work in fashion for self-amusement or take it lightly….Fashion is a profession that devours a man….When you’re young, it’s more amusing to work in fashion. You can be carefree. You also think you know your work better than you actually do. There is also a moment when you discover you don’t even know who you are.” — 1980

“Some people say New York is not really American but another little country. How untrue. New York is the most American of all. It is big, powerful, busy, varied, unbelievably energetic and so exciting.” — 1980

“I am not a young lion now, I am an old lion. Perhaps a fox.” — 1980

“I remember when trousers were shaped like trumpets [bell-bottoms]. Perhaps, it was amusing at the time as a fashion, but styles like this are gimmicks, they are not real and cannot last. Classics continue all the time because they have style, not ‘fashion.”’ — 1981

“My Paris is refinement, and there is no world that is refined that is not also melancholy.” — 1983

“People think decadence is debauched. Decadence is simply something very beautiful that is dying. It’s a beautiful flower that is dying, and sometimes you have to wait a very long time for another flower to come along.” — 1986

“What a woman needs is a black turtleneck sweater, a straight skirt and a man to love her.” — 1989

“I’ve worked all my life to found a fashion house worthy of France. I did so without concession or compromise.” — 1993, upon selling the house to Sanofi.

“I’m happy to be copied, otherwise I wouldn’t be doing my job well.” — 1998

“[Christian Dior was] 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.” — 2002

“In many ways, I feel that I have created the wardrobe of the contemporary woman and that I have participated in the transformation of my era. I have done so through clothes, which are certainly less important than music, architecture, painting or many other art forms, but it is nonetheless what I have done. Like Chanel, I have always accepted copies and I am extremely proud that women the world over today wear pantsuits, smoking suits, peacoats and trenchcoats….I have believed for a long time now that fashion is not merely there to embellish women. Similarly, I utterly reject the fantasies of those who seek to satisfy their egos through fashion.” — 2002

“[Le smoking] made women more powerful — in their conquest. I remember when Françoise Hardy wore a smoking to the opera in Paris. Scandal. People screamed and hollered. It was an outrage.” — 2003

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