Yves Saint Laurent exhibition in Petit Palais, Paris

The Fondation Pierre Berge-Yves Saint Laurent and the Petit Palais, Musee des Beaux-Arts de la Ville de Paris, present the first comprehensive retrospective of the work of Yves Saint Laurent, the major figure in the fashion of the second half of the twentieth century.

This exhibition presents a sweeping panorama of Yves Saint Laurent’s forty years of creativity. It is organised thematically, offering a selection of 307 haute couture and pret-a-porter garments drawn from the exceptional collection of over 5000 pieces retained by the Fondation Berge — Saint Laurent. The presentation of the creations is meticulously staged, from Saint Laurent’s beginnings with Dior in 1958 — the famous “Trapeze” collection — to the splendour of his evening dresses in 2002. The development of the Saint Laurent style and the fundamentals of his oeuvre are presented in a historical context illustrated with photographs and films.

French writer Marguerite Duras wrote in appreciation of his unique style: “Saint Laurent’s women come out of harems, castles and even working-class suburbs. You see them in the street, the subway, cheap stores and the stock exchange”. Yves Saint Laurent targets real women, not abstractions or creatures of fantasy. For him dressing women was a way of helping them live day-to-day in a changing world. He replaced the “total look” with a wardrobe in which each woman could find her own style.

“My primary concern has always been respect for my craft, which is not exactly an art, but which depends on an artist for its existence”.

Yves Saint-Laurent

According to his partner Pierre Berge, “it has often been said that Chanel freed women. This is true. Then years later Saint Laurent came along and gave them power. Power, as we know, is held by men; so by taking inspiration from the male wardrobe — by slipping men’s shoulders onto women’s via the reefer coat, the trouser suit, the safari jacket and the smock suit — Saint Laurent transmitted that power to them. More than a lot of other people he fought publicly for equality between the sexes and for recognition of the modern woman, not as an object but as a confident participant in the life of her times”.

Over 40 years, Yves Saint Laurent actually revolutionised female fashion by borrowing looks from menswear: smoking jackets, suits and desert wear. He helped pass the attributes of power from one sex to the other. Inspired by the street (his scandalous 1971 collection, with a disturbing blend of the elegant bourgeoise and the shameless hussy), travel (Russia, China, India, Spain, Japan, Africa and Morocco) and his links with the art world (Mondrian, Picasso, Matisse, Van Gogh, Cocteau), Yves Saint Laurent ceaselessly tried to ‘make fashion festive’.

The exhibition closes with an apotheosis of colours and garments revealing the present-day relevance of the Saint Laurent oeuvre, and with a video of the retrospective parade of 40 years of his work at the Centre Pompidou in 2002.

The Yves Saint Laurent exhibition is at the Petit Palais from 11th March to 29th August 2010. Open every day except Mondays and public holidays from 10am to 6pm. Late night opening until 8pm on Thursdays. Admission 11 Euro / 8 Euro.

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