The son of an insurance company manager, Yves Henri Donat Mathieu Saint Laurent left home at the age of 17 to work for the French designer Christian Dior.
After winning first prize in the International Wool Secretariat contest for his cocktail dress design in 1954, Yves Saint Laurent landed the job of Haute Couture designer when Dior died in 1957.
In 1960, he was conscripted into the French Army. His spell in the service was short-lived however, and he was transferred into a French mental hospital suffering from stress, where he underwent psychiatric treatment, including electroshock therapy, for a nervous breakdown.
In 1962, in the wake of his nervous breakdown, Saint Laurent was released from Dior and started his own label, YSL, financed by his companion, Pierre Bergé. The Rive Gauche boutiques for women were established in 1966, and men’s wear followed in the 1970s.
‘YSL’ is perhaps most famous for “Le Smoking” tuxedo jacket, see-through blouses, peasant blouses, bolero jackets, pantsuits and smocks. By feminising the basic shapes of the male wardrobe, YSL set new standards for world fashion. He not only adapted the male tuxedo for women, but also safari jackets, pea jackets and flying suits.
His 1971 radical ‘40s’ collection shocked critics, as did the advertising campaign for the first YSL men’s fragrance, ‘Pour Homme’ which featured Yves himself posing nude. In 1977, YSL launched the very popular ‘Opium’ perfume.
In 1993, the Saint Laurent fashion house was sold to the pharmaceuticals company, Sanofi, for approximately $600,000,000.
YSL held a 300-model fashion extravaganza at the final match of the 1998 World Cup football tournament in the Stade de France, and the following year he was awarded a ‘Lifetime Achievement’ award from The Council of Fashion Designers of America.
On his retirement, Saint Laurent became increasingly reclusive and spent much of his time at his house in Marrakech, Morocco.
Aged 71, he died from brain cancer in June 2008 on a rare trip back to his native Paris. President Sarkozy said in tribute, ‘Yves Saint Laurent was convinced that beauty was a necessary luxury for all men and all women.’
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