VSL — Visionary Saint Laurent
Every industry undergoes a pivotal moment that realigns the course that it takes after. These moments are usually represented by a mascot. A mascot that takes charge and thinks otherwise to bring in the change to make a global impact for the betterment of our species. Steve Jobs revolutionised the smartphone industry with the introduction of a phone which supports fluidic multi touch gestures. Bill Gates brought productivity and innovation to our finger tips with the help of an operating system which powers 90% of the computers worldwide. Elon Musk revolutionised the energy industry with the introduction of solar roofs and cars that run on lithium ion. What about the clothes that we wear today?
Did the fashion industry ever undergo a pivotal moment that redefined how people dressed up? Answer is, there were many. But there was one that envisioned to break boundaries and crush barriers. Presenting you, Yves Saint Laurent. An iconic fashion designer who broke a lot of stereotypes and transformed the way how the industry functioned from there on.
A young boy at the age of 13 with a troubled school life went to a theatre performance which inspired him to make intricate paper dolls to setup a mini theatre set. These paper dolls wore decorated costumes. These costumes later on turned out to be actual dresses which were worn by his mother and sisters. Upon realising this young boy’s talent, at the age of 17, YSL landed up in a competition against Karl Lagerfeld which brought his talent to a public spotlight in Paris. YSL’s design philosophy was in close association with Christian Dior’s design language. Upon realising this, Christian Dior hired him as an assistant designer immediately.
YSL mastered his couture skills under Dior and gathered many valuable contacts which later on proved to be beneficial. After the unexpected demise of Christian Dior, YSL was appointed as the head designer. This is when it all began. YSL thunder strikes the industry. YSL hurricane was formed to realign the tectonic plates of the world. His first collection was a instant success and the press loved him. YSL attained fame at the age of 21.
It wasn’t all a joy ride for him. YSL was called back to his hometown to serve in the military. After 4 months, YSL returned to Paris to realise that he wasn’t a part of Christian Dior’s label anymore. With frustration and agony at its brim, he and his partner founded the couture house, Yves Saint Laurent in the year 1961. Right from the word ‘go’, everything about him and his label was about breaking boundaries and turning heads. Democratising fashion was the crux of the new found fashion label.
His initial collections under his own label didn’t gain much traction. It was the Piet Mondrian inspired cocktail dress that brought him back to the limelight. This dress looks simple from the outside, but the construction that went behind it was complex and refined. Each colour block wasn’t a print but a actual block coloured fabric. The seams were cleverly hidden along the coloured blocks. Like the seams, this dress seamlessly synced art and fashion together.
Carrying forward the laurels, it was in the year 1966 when the entire world was shook by what YSL had to offer. It was an era when the perception of women wearing pants was considered as inappropriate. Saint Laurent had great respect for women, without them, he would’ve been out of business long back. So, he went on to make sure that their sexuality reached new heights and introduced the Le Smoking Jacket. This tuxedo created a huge social uproar. Lines between gender discrimination thinned. This garment became the face of gender equality and its absence in the society. So much so that, women who wore this tuxedo were barred from entering certain restaurants and hotels. This changed everything. If not for this iconic garment, women’s wardrobe wouldn’t be what it is right now. Its so iconic to a point where, its still available in the fabric and fit in YSL. Imagine the magnitude of this iconic garment.
Staying true to his ideology, YSL introduced the liberation collection in the year 1971. Chaos was in order. He made the models walk the ramp without underwear and he went against the law of fashion and introduced ethnic models for the first time when racial discrimination was at its best. Press refused to cover this collection. Dresses were made shorter and all of the above made a lot of people unhappy. YSL didn’t budge. He went on to raise the bars and broke many barriers, staying true to himself and his brand philosophy.
Sadly, right after this YSL’s decline began. This mammoth ship started to sink inch by inch, owing to YSL’s drug addiction and psychological instability. As a part of his last public stunt, YSL appeared nude for a an ad campaign for his label. Till date, no other designer under the sun have seen to be featured in their own ad campaign. This takes a lot of courage and integrity. He bid farewell to the industry in the year 1998 with his last ready to wear collection and passed the baton to a young and talented designer, Alber Elbaz. In 2008, YSL passed away in Paris. Entire industry came to a standstill for this man who had a vision and mission that no one else had, or ever will have.