TRIBUTES flowed yesterday for Yves Saint Laurent, the French fashion designer hailed as the “king of haute couture”.
The 71-year-old died of a brain tumour at his Paris home on Sunday night following a long illness, his long-time friend and former partner Pierre Berge said.
Saint Laurent was widely credited with rewriting the rules of fashion by putting women into trousersuits that came to define how modern females dressed.
French president Nicolas Sarkozy described him as “one of the greatest names in fashion” while Alexandra Shulman, the editor of British Vogue, said he helped bring fashion to the people.
Sarkozy said with Saint Laurent’s death “one of the greatest names in fashion has disappeared, the first to elevate haute couture to the rank of art”.
He added: “Yves Saint Laurent infused his label with his creative genius, elegant and refined personality, discrete and distinguished, during a half century of work, in both luxury and ready-to-wear, because he was convinced beauty was a necessary luxury for all men and all women.”
He had suffered poor mental and physical health for much of his life and had been seriously ill “for a year,” said Berge. The funeral will take place on Friday in Paris.
The reclusive designer retired from haute couture in 2002 after four decades at the top, designing for French actress Catherine Deneuve and using supermodels such as Jerry Hall and Laetetia Casta to show off his clothes.
Berge said Saint Laurent “knew perfectly well he had revolutionised haute couture, the important place he occupied in the second half of the 20th century”.
“Yves St Laurent invented everything, revisited everything, transformed everything to the service of a passion, to let woman shine and to free her beauty and mystery,” said Francois Pinault, head of the Pinault-Printemps Redoute fashion empire.
During his 2002 farewell, Saint Laurent said he had “always given the highest importance of all to respect for this craft, which is not exactly an art, but which needs an artist to exist”.
Yves Henri Donat Mathieu Saint Laurent was born in Oran, Algeria, on August 1, 1936. He first emerged as a promising designer at 17, winning first prize in a contest sponsored by the International Wool Secretariat for a cocktail dress design.
A year later in 1954, he enrolled at the Chambre Syndicale school of haute couture. Just months later he was introduced to Christian Dior, who was so impressed he hired him on the spot.
Dior died in 1957 and Saint Laurent was named head of the House of Dior at 21. The next year, his first solo collection for Dior — the “trapeze” line — launched Saint Laurent’s stardom.
His “smoking” or tuxedo jacket of 1966 remade the tux as a high fashion statement for both sexes. It remained the designer’s trademark item and was updated yearly until he retired.
Saint Laurent said he felt “fashion was not only supposed to make women beautiful, but to reassure them, to give them confidence, to allow them to come to terms with themselves”.
He spoke of his battles with depression and drugs when he retired in 2002: “I’ve known fear and terrible solitude. Tranquillisers and drugs, those phoney friends. The prison of depression and hospitals. I’ve emerged from all this, dazzled but sober.”
Saying it in style
Here are some quotes on fashion from the legendary designer Yves Saint Laurent, who died on Sunday.
* “I participated in the transformation of my era. I did it with clothes, which is surely less important than music, architecture, painting ... but whatever it’s worth I did it.” (2002)
* “I always believed that style was more important than fashion. They are rare, those who imposed their style, while fashion makers are so numerous.” (1993)
* “The most beautiful clothes that can dress a woman are the arms of the man she loves. But for those who haven’t had the fortune of finding this happiness, I am there.” (1983)
* “I tried to show that fashion is an art. For that, I followed the counsel of my master Christian Dior and the imperishable lesson of Mademoiselle Chanel. I created for my era and I tried to foresee what tomorrow would be.” (1983)
* “The street and me is a love story. 1971 is a great date because, finally, fashion took to the street.” (1971).
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