Yves Saint Laurent: The perfection of style

Elizabeth Proffitt | Contributing Writer

This article was originally posted July 2017

The timeless style and grace of Yves Saint Laurent is on show at The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond until Aug. 27.

The collection on show is picked from the Fondation Pierre Bergé—Yves Saint Laurent and other private collections. It features over 100 ready to wear garments, some of which have never been publicly seen before.

The exhibit opens with a simple quote from Saint Laurent in 1982, that sums up the purpose of the exhibit, “I am no longer concerned with sensation and innovation, but with the perfection of my style.”

The exhibit begins by recounting his childhood and showcasing his artistic genius from an early age. Saint Laurent’s journals and various colorful sketches show that even at a young age he had a very specific style that transcends his brand even today.

Saint Laurent began his journey into the world of fashion at The House of Dior. He began with mundane tasks and quickly rose through the ranks and ended up head designer at Dior at 21. He designed six collections with Dior some of which is on show in this exhibit.

Earning the name the Beatnik Courtier with this collection, it involves various earthy shades of velvet and leather and is characterized by wide-brimmed hats with long feathers and Victorian era inspired shoes.

After his departure from The House of Dior, Saint Laurent’s tastes began to include international inspiration. His clothes took on Spanish and Russian influences with fur hats, fringe and peasant blouses.

The exhibit also includes personal photographs, as well as magazine advertisements from the 1977-78 releases of his famous perfume Opium, lie under glass next to his sketches for the bottle designs of his product.

The '80s and '90s were a troubled although the creative time for the designer. He created one of his most memorable dresses in the early eighties, the black velvet dress with the big pink satin bow on the back.

The exhibit also features a glimpse into Saint Laurent’s creative process with various working sketches of some of his most famous pieces, as well as fabric swatches for his collections. One can see his creativity grow and evolve through the years because each board of sketches and swatches is marked with the year it was created.

The rest of the exhibit is less chronological. Instead, the organization is completely color-blocked, with a section for every color of the rainbow. Each section is cohesive and dramatic, highlighted by large boards of Saint Laurent’s fabric swatches for each color collection.

While each collection of dresses was similar in color, every piece pulled from different sources of inspiration. The looks range from gold two pieces ensembles and silk capes to elaborate ball gowns inspired by bygone eras.

The most striking section in this part of the exhibit is the warm-toned red section. This section contains dramatic fiery red dresses, some draped and some with intricately placed red fabric flowers. The showstopper of this section, however, isn’t even red, but a black velvet dress with a warm-toned yellow cape that still contributes to the cohesion of the section without being the same.

A case of Saint Laurent’s jewelry glitters in the center of the flowing gowns, with ornate gold pieces sure to stand out on the runway. The designer’s jewelry is as flamboyant as his clothes, never shying away from colorful gems and classic inspiration pulled from ancient Greek and African art.

The grand finale of this exhibit is a floral-print silk damask wedding dress. The dress is paired with a sheer floor-length drop veil and an ornate heart-shaped necklace with red beading. While Saint Laurent isn’t typically known for his wedding dresses, this piece exudes the special elegance and structural interest that he’s known for.

"The Perfection of Style" gives an intimate picture of Yves Saint Laurent as a designer and as a human being, it showcases his genius as well as his personal journey through life and through style.