Yves Saint Laurent was born on this day in 1936. Active in the Paris haute couture from 1953 until his retirement in 2002, Saint Laurent is considered one of the most influential designers of the latter 20th century. Saint Laurent passed away in 2008, but with the recent release of both official and unofficial biopics documenting his life, his legacy is clearly experiencing consideration. In honor of the designer's birthday, today’s blog post explores a Saint Laurent haute couture evening dress from 1979-80.
This evening dress was model 85 from Yves Saint Laurent’s “Homage to Diaghilev and Picasso” collection, inspired by the collaboration of ballet impresario Sergei Diaghilev and painter Pablo Picasso. Garments were comprised of contrasting shapes and color blocks, like this gown’s square black velvet shoulders juxtaposed with the rounded yellow satin skirt, a style reminiscent of Picasso’s set and costume designs for the Ballets Russes.
Notations on the fashion show program reveal that this dress cost 13,050 francs (approximately $3,260 in 1979). Couture pricing is arbitrary and depends on the number of models a client commissions each season, as well as her media value. Famous clients known for wearing a certain designer exclusively are valuable advertising for the house and can receive substantial discounts, or outright gifts of favorite designs.
This collection was well-received by both critics and customers. The New York Times reported that attendees, "suffered over which styles they should buy. They were traumatized by the fact they liked so many."1 Vogue gave the collection high praise calling it "a collection with fireworks" and "fashion on the highest level of craftsmanship and design."2 At the show's conclusion, audience members gave Saint Laurent a standing ovation.
Donor Betsy Bloomingdale favored the rich yellow color of this skirt. She owned several haute couture garments in similar colors, including a golden yellow halter gown in silk charmeuse, also by Yves Saint Laurent. The strong color combination seen in this evening dress was a defining characteristic of Saint Laurent's Picasso/Diaghilev collection, which featured intense colors punctuated by deep black and enlivened by a recurring harlequin pattern. Picasso painted the geometric harlequin pattern many times throughout his career, exploring the visual impact of the pattern itself and its symbolism. In the 1905 painting At the Lapin Agile, Picasso depicts himself as a harlequin wearing a black bicorn hat.
1 Morris, Bernadine. "Diaghilev Inspires Saint Laurent." New York Times (July 26, 1979) C1.
2 "Paris Fashion/American Allure." Vogue (Oct 1, 1979) 334.