Yves Saint Laurent's Conception of Style
One aspect of what was special about Yves Saint Laurent was his attitude toward women. Pierre Berger was Saint Laurent’s business partner and lover throughout his adult life. Berger said in a letter "It has often been said that Chanel liberated women. That's true. Years later, Yves Saint Laurent would give them power... He strived socially, much more than others, for equality of the sexes and for the acknowledgment of the modern woman, not just as an object, but as someone who contributes to society and asserts her own confidence."
One of the ways Saint Laurent sought to give women power was in his approach to style.
Pierre Berger explained Saint Laurent's shift from "fashion" to "style."
"Another phenomenon ... occurred when he decided to get on Chanel's wheel, as they say in cycling. Back in 1958, down near Aix-en-Provence, between his two shows, I asked him what he thought of Chanel. 'Oh yeah,' he'd said, 'it's all very good, but it's not fashion!' Because the doxa of fashion was that it had to be revamped every season - not only at Christian Dior but everywhere. I admire Saint Laurent for having realized this was a mistake. He came from a very bad school represented by Dior that subjected fashion to artificial changes.
And yet, without being prodded by anyone, Saint Laurent came to grasp Chanel's true significance and thus moved into her slipstream. From that point on, he hated fashion, as he himself wrote. He believed only in style. He became passionate about style. Style was behind the emergence of Saint Laurent's own major contribution."
So a shift from ever changing fashion... to a style! Initially, he thought Chanel wasn't doing what he should be doing, then he decided to follow her way of exploring a style instead of continuous change without a guiding principle.
And what was the essence of his style? It was about movement instead of the pose. It was about unconstrained movement... to "develop ways to give expression to free a woman's body movements."
There are a lot of details... but the movement is the key. Saint Laurent saw that the roles of women in society were changing... and he wanted to design for the newly empowered active woman.
"In a Dior dress, a woman was like a splendid icon, a beautiful statue, but in her magnificent pose, the movement was stiff. Dressed in Saint Laurent, a woman moved with ease, without artifice. After the art of the pose, the mastery of attitude. The designer made this his fundamental concept: 'All my dresses stem from a gesture [a movement of the body]. A dress that does not reflect or conjure up a gesture is no good. Once you have found that gesture, you can choose the color, the final form.'"
I love his focus on style... and the essence of the style being movement. And the whole approach grounded in how he saw the role of women in society.
It is interesting to note... that the relation of Yves Saint Laurent's idea of style based in movement to Dior's idea of fashion based in the pose... is in some ways similar to the relation of Picasso's Cubist painting to the single point perspective which came before. For more on the latter, see Picasso and the Medium of Desire.
Quotes from Florence Müller, Farid Chenoune. Yves Saint Laurent. Abrams Books: New York, 2010.
Copyright © 2016. Alan Bush. All rights reserved.