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The Unmistakeable Allure of the Saint Laurent Woman

60+ years of unrefined elegance and modern edge

Yves Saint Laurent was born with a pull toward fashion and creativity. He grew up in Oran, where his family was part of society’s affluent class. The designer spent his childhood marveling at the fashions worn by his mother and her friends who would come over for tea.

By the time he was 18, the designer left Oran for Paris, where he was hired by Christian Dior to design for the House of Dior. The famed designer quickly worked his way up, becoming Mr. Dior’s right hand, helping to design the dresses for each season. Then, at 21, he was tasked with taking over creative direction for the House when Mr. Dior passed suddenly.

Yves has always been interested in fashion. At three, he would cry if he didn’t like my dress. – Lucienne Mathieu-Saint-Laurent

Musée Yves Saint Laurent

The stress took a toll on Yves Saint Laurent, who eventually took time away to work on his mental health. Eventually, the designer took everything he had learned and started his own label. YSL was born in 1961, completely revolutionizing the industry as a whole.

The (Yves) Saint Laurent Woman

In the late 1960s, a shift was happening in fashion—silhouettes were beginning to modernize, inspired by youth culture and street fashion. Gabrielle Chanel, who had once referred to Yves Saint Laurent as her heir, had trouble understanding this movement.

Yves Saint Laurent, however, was ignited by it. Inspired by the femininity he grew up surrounded by, he sought to empower women through fashion, offering a modern sense of comfort and elegance. As his career progressed, the modern woman remained his muse.

Early YSL Sheer Evening Gown
Evening gown worn by Danielle Luquet de Saint Germain, © Yves Saint Laurent / Peter Caine
YSL Muse
Betty Catroux, Paris, 1980s, © Droits réservés

Yves Saint Laurent was constantly surrounded by models, from Victoire Doutreleau, whom he met while working for Dior and later followed him to YSL, to 19-year-old model Danielle Luquet de Saint Germain, who inspired the designer to create the very first tuxedo-inspired smoking jacket. Additionally, she inspired the scandalous sheer black blouse, which caused a scene after Danielle wore it on the runway.

In addition to his professional muses, Yves was also surrounded by women in his personal life. Yves Saint Laurent went everywhere with his two best pals, Betty Catroux and Louise ‘Loulou’ de La Falaise, who were endless sources of inspiration for the designer.

Much like today, the early Yves Saint Laurent woman oozed a radiant, electric energy, one that was inherently feminine and well ahead of its time. The women he surrounded himself with were the real-life embodiment of Yves’ creative spirit. It was those women, who also included Pablo Picasso’s youngest daughter, Paloma, who helped shape the brand’s DNA.

LOULOU YSL 1980 RTW Photo Guy Marineau
Yves Saint Laurent and Loulou de la Falais, © Guy Marineau

The Modern Saint Laurent Woman

While the label’s early days and the man behind the House were essential to molding the brand into what it is today, a few notable names helped further define the modern Saint Laurent woman.

Following Yves Saint Laurent’s official departure in 2002, the House saw some of today’s major fashion names at the brand’s helm. The late Alber Elbaz, Tom Ford, Italian designer Stefano Pilati, and Hedi Slimane were integral to the House during the late 1990s and into the 2000s.

While both Tom Ford and later Stefano Pilati are credited in large part for helping make the brand’s accessory business what it is, it is Hedi Slimane whose tenure at Saint Laurent had the most profound impact on the brand as we know it today.

Hedi Slimane Saint Laurent 1
Hedi Slimane photographed for Saint Laurent in 2015

From 2012 to 2016, Hedi Slimane helmed Saint Laurent, and it was he who dropped the Yves from Yves Saint Laurent, further defining the brand’s new era. Like Yves himself, Hedi Slimane was ahead of his time, an early adapter of social media’s impact on fashion. In 2015, he told Yahoo Style, “The  fashion industry has not caught up to the current pace of social media.”

In his (relatively) short time at the House, Slimane revolutionized the brand, changing not only its reputation but also its financial success. While Slimane’s tenure was not met without controversy, thanks to the shift that happened seemingly overnight, in many ways, Slimane’s rebellion was not all that different from the principles the House was founded upon.

While not outwardly obvious, many of Slimane’s collections were inspired by the brand’s early days. Slimane is often credited with blurring the lines between women’s and men’s fashion, which in many ways pays homage to Yves Saint Laurent’s early suit sets and relaxed tailoring.

Slimane, too, was inspired by femininity (though his so-called obsession with thinness was a constant source of criticism), creating a modern version of the Saint Laurent Woman—chic and stylish but relatable with edge.

Saint Laurent AW24
Models walk the runway for Vaccarello’s A/W 2023 presentation
Anthony Vaccarello s Saint Laurent AW24

Whether you loved Hedi Slimane’s Saint Laurent or not, it’s indisputable that, while not necessarily unique, he created a clear, distinct vision—a modern version of the woman that Yves Saint Laurent designed for. He defined Saint Laurent as we know it today, and that unmistakable allure has transcended eras, further expanded upon by Slimane’s successor, Anthony Vaccarello.

While Vaccarello’s early designs, which took inspiration from both Saint Laurent’s founding father and his predecessor, were heavily scrutinized, the brand’s sales quickly began to increase, giving the designer time to find his way.

The designer has reinvented the classics like the brand’s famous skirt suits, tuxedo, and safari jackets, all possessing the instantly identifiable air of sophistication with edge. While Slimane set the foundation, Vaccarello continues to bring it to life, paying homage to the brand’s past but defining it as his own.

 

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Just A Girl
Just A Girl
5 days ago

I love pieces like this! Please write more!

Bee222
Bee222
1 day ago

Oran is a City in Algeria.
Yves Saint Laurent was born in Algeria which was under French occupation at the time.

Paris
Paris
1 day ago

YSL was a genius who created feminine, beautiful styles. No-one has since been able to create anything as stunning as he did. He remains at the forefront as the designer who understood femininity’s correlation to fashion.