“Chanel offered women freedom, Yves Saint Laurent gave them power,” Pierre Bergé, Saint Laurent’s longtime partner in life and business, is quoted as saying in the book’s introduction by the author Laurence Benaïm (the journalist and writer has previously published several other books on Saint Laurent, as well on Christian Dior, where the couturier worked prior to beginning his eponymous house). Charting the 100 pieces which define Saint Laurent’s career, Benaïm pays testament to a couturier with “the freedom to stand up for one’s beliefs, to show one’s true self by defying taboos, living brilliantly and passionately, and breaking all the rules”.
It also celebrates the liberatory power of his collections, particularly those pieces which revolutionised the way women dressed – like the pinstriped suit, the Saharienne safari jacket and, most famously, Le Smoking tuxedo, once the reserve only of men – which continue to hang in wardrobes even today. “To serve women’s bodies, their gestures, their attitude, their lives. I wanted to be part of the women’s liberation movement of the past century,” he said towards the end of his career, in 2002.
Other pieces in the unique volume, which span his first collection in January 1962 following his departure from Dior to his final couture presentation in 2002, include the Mondrian shift dress – perhaps the first art-fashion crossover – costumes from Belle du Jour, in which he dressed his lifelong muse the actress Catherine Deneuve, the Ballet Russes collection, his coup de crayon gowns, as well as an exploration of the designer’s use of jewel tones, velvet, lace, and leopard print.
“Saint Laurent was the first designer to express his affection for women not as a father but like a lover to whom they could give themselves completely,” writes Benaïm. “It seems impossible to imagine a world without Saint Laurent, without his signature vocabulary, his liberated classic styles with their effortless fluidity of movement.”Yves Saint Laurent: The Impossible Collection, published by Assouline, is out now.