Yves St Laurent born 1 August 1936 (d. 2008)
Born in Algeria to French parents, Yves Saint Laurent had a difficult childhood. Although taunted at school, he found solace at home in his drawing and painting and occasional designs of dresses for his mother and two sisters.
He first came to the fashion world's attention when he was seventeen and studying in Paris. He won 1st prize in a dress design competition sponsored by the International Wool Secretariat.
When Christian Dior saw Saint Laurent's designs, he was so impressed that he offered the young man a job as an assistant and was soon referring to Saint Laurent as his 'dauphin'. When Dior died in 1957, Saint Laurent took over the house. His first collection for Dior in 1958 was greeted enthusiastically and his 1960 collection for Dior appropriated the Left Bank style, with black leather jackets, knitted turtlenecks, and crocodile jackets with mink collars. The fashion world watched with fascination as street fashion was redesigned at the hands of a couturier.
In the same year Saint Laurent was called up to fight in the Algerian war. When he was discharged several months later, he discovered that he had been replaced as head designer at Dior - so he created his own house.
Under his own name, Saint Laurent continued to produce elegant wearable clothes that drew on a huge range of influences and he successfully tapped into the vogue for androgynous dressing that spread throughout Europe and America in the mid-1960s. By feminising the basic shapes of mens fashion, he can be credited with transforming evening wear and the working woman's wardrobe - as Armani was to do again in the 1980s.
In 1993, Yves Saint Laurent , which was by now also a major perfume house, was sold to a major company and has changed hands a number of times since, becoming part of the Gucci NV group in 1999 with Tom Ford as designer and creative director for couture and Yves Saint Laurent Perfumes, as well as designer for the YSL Rive Gauche label.
In 1958, Saint Laurent met Pierre Bergé, who was at the time the manager and lover of the Parisian painter Bernard Buffet. At a weekend party Buffet met his future wife, and Saint Laurent and Bergé commenced a romantic relationship that lasted until 1976. After their breakup Bergé continued to serve as Saint Laurent's business manager and remained living in their jointly owned home until 1986.
Although his sexuality was hardly a secret in the fashion world, Saint Laurent did not publicly acknowledge his homosexuality until 1991, in an interview in the French daily newspaper Le Figaro.
Almost any other leading designer will cite him as their idol. Marc Jacobs refers to him as god. Tom Ford and Jean-Paul Gaultier called him their mentor.
In 2002, dogged by years of poor health, drug abuse, depression, alcoholism, criticisms of YSL designs, and 'problems' with lead designer Tom Ford, Saint-Laurent and Gucci closed the illustrious couture house of YSL. While the house no longer exists, the brand still survives through its parent company Gucci.
The pret-a-porter line is still being produced under the direction of Stefano Pilati after Tom Ford retired in 2004, while the boxer briefs sold all over the world still carry the brand name.
After his retirement, Saint Laurent became increasingly reclusive and spent much of his time at his house in Marrakech, Morocco. He died 1 June 2008 in Paris, aged 71, after a long illness.
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