This year, on 29 January 2012, the Yves Saint Laurent brand will celebrate its 50th birthday. Fifty years of dressing women (and men), of launching best-seller licensing deals, of building up Yves Saint Laurent’s legend, Pierre Bergé’s myth, of being scandalous under Tom Ford and quiet under Stefano Pilati.
I fell in love with Yves Saint Laurent after a Paris ELLE cover featuring the designer with Laetitia Casta in that bikini flower wedding dress. Although I haven’t been able to find it anywhere on the world wide web, to the extent I’ve started to think this cover was little more than a composite of my imagination, I’d date it back to his 2002 retrospective.
Despite not owing anything Yves Saint Laurent until last year, the man and the brand have been a recurrent presence in my life and have formed my fashion taste.
I remember queuing at the Petit Palais to see the Yves Saint Laurent retrospective, the amazement of the Visconti room, the surprise of discovering he’d written a cartoon book, the Catherine Deneuve wardrobe and his voice when answering Proust’s questionnaire
I remember my sister’s shock when, sitting on les berges de la Seine, after seeing the Petit Palais retrospective, I told her Yves Saint Laurent had been a drug addict, then leafing through Laurence Benaïm’s biography to read the appropriate extracts
I remember being impressed by the minimalism, cut and modernity of my first real-life Mondrian dress at the Grace Kelly V&A exhibition
I remember seeing the pictures of Saint Laurent being made Grand Officier de la Légion d’Honneur in 2007 and realising there and then he would definitely never design again
I remember being moved to tears when I first heard Laetitia Casta and Catherine Deneuve sing Barbara’s Ma plus belle histoire d’amour at the end of his 2002 haute-couture retrospective. (No, Laetitia can’t sing)
I remember my eighty-year-old neighbour turning up to my birthday in a Pucci dress and Yves Saint Laurent shawl and considering her the height of elegance
I remember loving Anny Duperey’s wardrobe in Stavisky, a white, luxury symphony, and discovering, years later, that Yves Saint Laurent had designed it
I remember hearing about Yves Saint Laurent’s death, on the radio, the morning of my Indian history exam, when I should have been focusing on Macaulay’s reforms and how the British created a caste system
I remember regretting not to be in Paris to queue for the exhibition before the Christie’s auction
I remember being disappointed Pierre Bergé has decided to disperse the collection rather than keeping rue Babylone as a museum and not understanding his decision. I’ve since read in Béatrice Peyrani’s biography that he thought a private museum wouldn’t be sustainable
I remember considering the 1998 advert for the Paris women’s fragrance, with a woman kissing her lover, suspended to a helicopter, at the top of the Eiffel Tower, as the height of romanticism
I remember the 1998 World Cup retrospective, just before the France-Brazil match kicked off. Pure Pierre Bergé marketing genius
I remember little of the Tom Ford years
I remember Stefano Pilati, shy and self-effacing, trying to convince Anna Wintour dark green is a colour in The September Issue
I remember an article on Pilati’s mastership of polka dots in one of the first Paris Vogue I’ve ever read
I remember Anna Dello Russo in Pilati’s strawberry print white dress, with a cherry hat
I remember my first Yves Saint Laurent manifesto, set aside by a passenger on the number 9 bus at the Knightsbridge stop
I remember Kate Moss looking through the Pierre-Bergé Yves Saint Laurent Fondation window, in an advert which has been on the walls of every single room I’ve moved to
I remember thinking the same Kate Moss wasn’t the best person to embody the Parisienne perfume because she was more cool Britannia than Parisian chic. Would Yves have approved?
I remember buying my first vintage Yves Saint Laurent piece, a purple skirt I date to the Van Gogh collection, in the 1980s. I remember nearly buying a red cape with a black fur collar for fashion’s sakes since it suited neither my frame, nor my lifestyle
I remember buying my second Yves Saint Laurent piece, a Muse in a beautiful camel colour in the softest grainy leather
I remember opening my wardrobe to make and inventory of all the clothes inspired by the Yves Saint Laurent collections I owe. Smoking, check, safari jacket, check, trench coat, check…