The second and final U.S. stop for “Yves Saint Laurent: The Perfection of Style” will open to the public May 6 at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.
Running through Aug. 27, the multifaceted exhibition spotlights 100 couture and ready-to-wear items from the Paris-based Fondation Pierre Bergé and other private collections. The Richmond run is the only East Coast venue for the exhibition, which has been organized by the Seattle Art Museum in partnership with Fondation Pierre Bergé. Along with vividly colored eveningwear from the designer spanning from the Seventies to 2002, the exhibition will showcase seldom-seen documents from the Yves Saint Laurent fashion house and from the private life of the company’s namesake. There will also be storyboards with various sketches and color swatches for every Saint Laurent couture show from 1962 to 2002.
As for the fashion, there will be a mix of ensembles highlighting his early years at the House of Dior, including a short evening dress from his 1958 debut “Trapeze” collection at the age of 21. The exhibition continues with his groundbreaking designs of the Sixties, which revolutionized the fashion industry. During this decade, Saint Laurent liberated modern women from the constraints of strict gender codes by creating clothing — such as the safari jacket, the pantsuit, and the tuxedo — which he borrowed from the male wardrobe. Visitors also will see how Saint Laurent was inspired by the work of other artists, including Piet Mondrian and Tom Wesselmann, as well as African art and ancient Greek vase painting.
Nonfashion types may be intrigued by the gallery that will be dedicated to toiles, the first drafts or muslins that are used for couture garments. There, visitors will learn about the different stages of production and fittings before the final garment is actually realized. There will also be a bevy of costume jewelry, accessories, photographs, drawings, films and video from the Fondation’s archives. One element that will attract a good deal of interest will be the “Paper Doll Couture House” that he first created as a teenager in 1953. Those fashionable paper dolls will be shown for the first time in the States.
There are also examples of his designs that were inspired by the work of such other artists as Wesselman and Pablo Picasso, and separately an Andy Warhol portrait of Saint Laurent. There is also a deep dive into Saint Laurent’s childhood and the early stages of his career. VMFA spokesman Anthony Backherms said, “It’s not the kind of exhibition where there is that one piece that makes you think, ‘Wow, this is what makes it great.’ The whole thing just adds layer upon layer of understanding this man’s life and work.”