Yves Saint Laurent

'Mondrian' cocktail dress, Yves Saint Laurent, 1965. Museum no. T.369-1974

'Mondrian' cocktail dress, Yves Saint Laurent, 1965. Museum no. T.369-1974

'Yves Saint Laurent has a fifty-fifty deal with the street. Half of the time he is inspired by the street and half of the time the street gets its style from Yves Saint Laurent.'
Diana Vreeland in Yves Saint Laurent, 1983

Yves Saint Laurent (1936 - 2008) spent his childhood in Algeria. He was precociously talented, winning first prize for a cocktail dress in the 1953 International Wool Secretariat Contest at the age of only 17. While he was training as a cutter, Christian Dior hired him as an assistant. When Dior died suddenly, Saint Laurent took over as artistic director of the House of Dior. His first collection 'The Trapeze Line' met with great success. He was also one of the first haute couture designers inspired by street clothing in his 1960 Autumn/Winter collection based on the Left Bank 'beatnik' look.

While undertaking National Service, Saint Laurent was replaced at Dior by Marc Bohan. So in 1961, Saint Laurent established his own fashion house and presented his first collection. In 1966 he opened his 'Rive Gauche' (Left Bank) boutique selling ready-to-wear clothing aimed at young people. He also produced his 'smoking', a classic trouser suit for women.

The following year Saint Laurent introduced his collection of 'African' dresses, created from wooden beads, shells and raffia. These are similar to Paco Rabanne's dresses constructed from discs. Saint Laurent also designed the outfits worn by Catherine Deneuve in Buñuel's surrealist film Belle de Jour. Yves Saint Laurent continued to create innovative fashion throughout the 1970s and 1980s.