It's OK for intellectual feminists to like fashion

Blog title from Hadley Freeman's book The Meaning of Sunglasses : "Prada styles itself as the label it's OK for intellectual feminists to like".

The author is a bilingual fashion editor, writer and translator with a serious blog, cinema and magazine habit.

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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 wanting the Arty ring before deciding against it because everyone was buying it. In 2011, Net-a-Porter alone sold 800 blue Arty rings.

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…

Posted at 7:54pm and tagged with: first person, pierre bergé, ysl, yves saint laurent, tom ford, Stefano Pilati, the september issue,.

Saint Laurent Mauvais Garçon, Marie-Dominique Lelièvre

Saint Laurent the bad boy. The alcohol-loving, drug-taking, unfaithful, irregular Saint Laurent. In case of doubt on the content of Lelièvre’s biography, here is its very first sentence: “Il ne fut qu’un couturier”. He was a mere designer. For Lelièvre, the Saint Laurent myth is nothing more than marketing orchestrated by Pierre Bergé (who refused to collaborate to this biography and apparently forbid many former Saint Laurent collaborators from doing so). As mentioned in previous articles, many of Lelièvre’s assertions feel like little more than controversy for the sake of it. Contrary to many biographers of “la saintlaurentie”, she isn’t close to her subject, observing it in a cold and systematic manner. If anyone could accuse her of bias, it would be against Saint Laurent, of writing une biographie à charge. Is it better than being so blinded by your subject you’re incapable of criticism?

Le Monde à ses Pieds, Géraldine Maillet

Death by fashion industry at 21. Death by too much fame, too much money, too much coke, too much uncertainty, too much self-doubt and too little love. In the middle of the 2000s, Ruslana Korshunova was the model of the moment, a recognisable face among the Slavic hurricane engulfing catwalks. Former model Géraldine Paillet wrote a scenario-like imagined biography. Initially multiplying view points to only focus on Ruslana’s once she has found success, her narrative is time-marked by restaurants and people and by an acerbic take on the ridiculous side of the fashion industry. We’ll never know why Ruslana killed herself but Paillet suggests it is the consequence of a gigantic misunderstanding: Ruslana wanted to make her already proud mother proud, wanted love from people who already loved her and wanted eternal success in an industry where everything has a best-before date.

Helena Rubinstein La Femme qui Inventa la Beauté, Michèle Fitoussi

We owe her modern beauty. The scientific jargon, the three steps evening routine, the sunscreen and hydrating obsession: all courtesy of one Mrs Rubinstein. Poland-born, Australia-bred, America-famous, Helena Rubinstein built an empire based on an acquaintance’s miracle cream, a huge amount of will and work and an infallible instinct for what women (and men) want. ELLE journalist Michèle Fitoussi wrote a novelised biography full of imagined dialogues where Picasso and Paul Poiret are nothing more than secondary characters.

L’Effet Kiss pas Cool Journal d’une Angoissée de la Vie, Leslie Plée

It’s not easy going through life worried. Leslie Plée suffers from the kind of anxiety which stops you from doing something because you worry it will trigger worries. Rather than allowing this anxiety to spoil her life, she channels it into a cartoon blog. Her blog is so popular it has lead to two books, including L’Effet Kiss pas Cool, full of well-spotted and funny strips on the little moments in life that can become big if you suffer from heightened anxiety. Not bad for someone who used to worry about how her drawings would be received.

Pictures: Saint Laurent from Fashionfreax, Ruslana from The Fashion Spot (ad for Geog Jensen), Helena Rubinstein from The Wall Street Journal, Leslie Plée from Leslie Plée’s blog via Les Gridouillis

Posted at 4:47pm and tagged with: book review, ysl, yves saint laurent, beauty, Helena Rubinstein, model life, blogosphere,.

Marie-Dominique Lelièvre’s biography of Yves Saint Laurent is full of unexpected, sometimes scandalous, often unverifiable allegations. The one which surprised me most doesn’t concern Saint Laurent but rather Gabrielle Chanel. In 12 words, hidden on page 197 of the paperback, Lelièvre explains that Mademoiselle owed her “tremendous energy” to coke:

La coke est le secret de la stupéfiante énergie de Coco Chanel qui, à soixante-seize ans, gigotait comme un ouistiti sous amphétamines

Coke was the secret behind Coco Chanel’s tremendous energy. Aged 76, she was still wriggling like a marmoset on speed

Lelièvre, Marie-Dominique Saint Laurent Mauvais Garçon (Editions Flammarion, 2010), p. 197; Translation my own

In the end-of-book notes, Lelièvre quotes a 1959 video during which the designer does indeed fidget a lot. And that’s it. To justify this very serious allegation on Chanel, Lelièvre doesn’t use any contemporary account. This line is merely dropped in to show that Saint Laurent wasn’t the first designer addicted to cocaine.

Is it true? Saint Laurent is widely documented as having suffered from drug addiction during periods of his life. I can’t remember, however, reading anything about Chanel’s coke habit in Paul Morand, Edmonde Charles-Roux or Justine Picardie. Voluntary oversight by biographers enamored with their subject or incredible talent from the house of Chanel to hide one of their founder’s ugly traits? If you try Googling Chanel and Coke, most hits are about Lagerfeld designing for Coca Cola.

Posted at 7:50pm and tagged with: chanel, yves saint laurent, ysl, karl lagerfeld, book,.

Galliano, McQueen and co weren’t the first victims of the quickening pace of fashion. If Marie-Dominique Lelièvre is to believe, the very man who launched prêt-à-porter and the infernal four-collections-a-year-minimum rythm, Yves Saint Laurent himself, was its first victim:

"Up until the„ we’d lead a carefree life. After work, we met up to go to the cinema, the had dinner and, post-dinner, we went to clubs to see transvestites shows. Going to bed late was of no consequence. What eventually spoilt everything was prêt-à-porter. It was too much for Yves, all those collections. He was a victim of the Judy Garland syndrome", says his [Yves Saint Laurent’s] friend Philippe Collin.


"Instead of making him happier, prêt-à-porter killed him", confirms Anne-Marie Munoz.

[…] To stay on top, Yves, too, took too much speed. And therefore sedatives to fall asleep.

Lelièvre, Marie-Dominique Saint Laurent Mauvais Garçon (Editions Flammarion, 2010), pp. 164-165; Translation my own

Picture from Nylon-Volupté.com

Posted at 8:49pm and tagged with: yves saint laurent, ysl, couturier maudit, book,.

Christian Louboutin and Yves Saint Laurent, two giants of the French luxury industry, are engaged in what could become a dirty battle in front of the US District Court. At stakes: the use of the semelle rouge, the red sole mark trademarked by Louboutin, by YSL.

In the trademark-infringement case, Louboutin asked for $1 million in damages because

Defendants use of red footwear outsoles that are virtually identical to plaintiff’s Red Sole Mark is likely to cause and is causing confusion, mistake and deception among the relevant purchasing public as to the origin of the infringing footwear

Two questions: why in the US and why now, after so many companies, ranging from young fashion high-street brand River Island to Italian luxury company Versace, have used that red sole?

The likely answer to the US question lies in US trademark laws. Christian Louboutin SA, the plaintiff, is registered in Paris under number B 380 742 650. The defendant however isn’t YSL France but rather its American branch, Yves Saint Laurent America Inc. Louboutin deliberately chose to sue on the other side of the pond. The Louboutin website lists a copyright agent in New York City, rather than France. Unlike the US English version, the French version the Louboutin website IP copy doesn’t even list a copyright agent.

Louboutin is a special case in that his red sole defies time and trends. It has been defining his shoes since 1992, regardless of heel height. The designer has trademarked the sole in the US, in an application which read:

In 1992 I incorporated the red sole into the design of my shoes. This happened by accident as I felt that the shoes lacked energy so I applied red nail polish to the sole of a shoe. This was such a success that it became a permanent fixture.

Judging the merits and relevance of the case is of course the court’s business but, even if the Louboutin and YSL reds are the same to the tiniest CMYK detail, I feel quite offended by the suggestion that as a luxury shopper, I would get confused because of a mere sole. The Louboutin and YSL designs are quite distinctive, as are their inside sole branding, their very different takes on the shape of the foot and the spirit of the brands. Suggesting that YSL is piggybacking Louboutin’s renommée and market would be forgetting rather quickly what a storied house YSL is and ignoring the €269 millions turnover generated by the brand over the last financial year.

Louboutin has in the past taken successful legal action against brands using the red sole. In 2010, Australian brand Peep Toe switched its sole colour from red to purple after complaints from Louboutin. Such results however have yet to deter the shoe industry as a whole from using crimson soles. 

Louboutin seems to be on a legal action bender. After suing YSL, it is now suing Brazilian footwear brand Carmen Steffens, who sporadically uses red soles in its collection. If Mr Louboutin really wants to do things properly and start suing every red sole under the sun, he might consider taking legal action against Louis XIV who, long before the invention of Revlon, launched the fashion for red soles at the French Court to fight his height hang-ups. The colour took up and quickly became a symbol of taste, luxury and birth right.

Posted at 8:00pm and tagged with: ysl, christian louboutin, footwear, copyright, legal,.

When Marc Jacobs’ advert for Bang came out last Spring, comparisons with Yves Saint Laurent’s posing nude for Rive Gauche, were obvious. What I learnt reading Laurence Benaïm’s biography of Saint Laurent is that, had the French designer followed his initial idea of posing “with a fake bottle in between his legs”, the two ads would have looked even more similar.

Long after the launch of the 1971 perfume, Jeanloup Sieff, who took the pictures, explained that he “regretted not to have taken those pictures [with the bottle], a mixture of provocation and uneasiness. I went for close up portraits instead.”

Al quotes from Yves Saint Laurent, Laurence Benaïm (Grasset, 2002) p.355; translations my own

Posted at 6:00pm and tagged with: advertising, ysl, Perfume, Marc Jacobs, Jeanloup Sieff, photography,.

1 - Mr Porter

Natalie Massenet & Richemont’s latest online venture launches early this year. Seeing how tuned Massenet is to her customers, I’m sure the store will stock enough small sizes to allow women to shop and wear menswear too.

Mr Porter

2 - Chanel launches its online store

Chanel should launch its first transactional website this year. How is the French luxury brand going to translate its black and white minimalism and giant lion catwalk eccentricities on a digital platform?

3 - More luxury brands and magazine apps on the iPad/iPhone
The next logical step in the fashion industry taming the online world: brands and magazine will launch transactional, interactive apps on the Apple store, following again, Massenet’s lead. Expect pop up apps for one-off collections as well as stronger links between printed magazines and their online alter egos. I also see luxury brands including QR codes in their clothes labels so that customers can see how garments are made - playing the heritage and skills card on smart phones.

In 2011, fashion brands will keep embracing social media - or reject them altogether. The time for middle ground is gone.

4 - Black Swan

Rodarte costumes, Vincent Cassel as the ballet director and Natalie Portman as Odette. Not to mention actual ballet scenes on the big screen.

UK release announced for 21 January 2011

5 - YSL, l’Amour Fou

A feature-long documentary on Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé, the making of their fashion house and their private and professional partnership. If you’re as fascinated by Saint Laurent as I am, it is a must-see.

L’amour Fou is rumoured to be released in the UK this year.

6 - Sherlock, season II and the Untitled Sherlock Holmes Sequel by Guy Ritchie

Neither is technically fashion-related but both the first series and first film had a strong wardrobe department, be it Millford coat and Spencer Hart suits or modern spin on Victorian menswear. Add to that beautiful cinematography and strong acting.

Sherlock season II is announced on the BBC for the summer

Untitled Sherlock Holmes Sequel released 16 December 2011

7 - Indutrie magazine, Monocle

Print isn’t dead - it is just changing. The launch of Monocle, Industrie and other The Gentlewoman over the past few years showed there is a market for high end, specialised magazines with more brain than gloss.

8 - A new direction for Paris Vogue

Although it is hard at the moment to imagine who is going to take over from Carine Roitfeld, and which direction s/he will take the magazine in, I hope to see amazing editorials alongside well-researched and well-written articles. On my list of favourites for the job, mostly men: Loic Prigent, Olivier Lalanne…

The new rédacteur en chef should be announced at the beginning of the year

9 - Yohji Yamamoto at the V&A

After Margiela at Somerset House, the V&A fashion department tackles another fashion pioneer. Yamamoto’s menswear will be displayed alongside womenswear for the first time. Let’s hope the exhibition isn’t as big a let down as the Grace Kelly one.

12 March 2011 - 10 July 2011

10 - L’art de l’automobile: An exhibition of Ralph Lauren’s cars at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris

Beautiful cars +  Ralph Lauren, what more can I say? Of course, I would be even happier if there were Ralph Lauren garments on display, but I’ll settle for some Ferraris, Jaguars and Bugattis.

28 April 2011 - 28 August 2011

Musée des Arts Décoratifs

11 - The Burma Conspiracy

Largo Winch was my favourite graphic novel growing up, the one which taught me all about hostile takeovers and share prices. Jérôme Salle’s first Winch film was worthy of the original character. In this one, he cast Sharon Stone as an international lawyer accusing Largo of crime against humanity, most likely to get the W group share price down.

Largo Winch 2 is out in France 16 February 2011 

Pictures: Screencap of Mr Porter; Chanel store from Popsop; Black Swan from Blogspot; Yves Saint Laurent from Screen Daily; Sherlock Holmes from Screen Crave; Yamamoto from the V&A; Ralph Lauren from Vanity Fair

Posted at 6:37am and tagged with: Classy film, Sherlock, Vogue Paris, chanel, exhibition, magazines, online shopping, ysl, yves saint laurent, cinema,.

Yves Saint Laurent wrote his only known comic book La Vilaine Lulu, Natsy Lulu, the tale of a 10 year-old girl with mischief and perversion on her mind, while at Christian Dior. On Françoise Sagan’s urging, Lulu was published in 1967 - the year of the three-piece pant suits, short smoking and safari dresses. The year Saint Laurent met Betty Catroux.

In the book preface, Saint Laurent distances himself from his subject. Lulu is, rather, one of his collaborators at Dior:

Often, after six o’clock, one of the designers at Christian Dior would get dressed up in the clothes. One evening, he pulled his trousers right up to his knees. … In the models’ changing rooms, he found a red tulle petticoat and a gondolier’s hat. A tiny but wilful and crafty guy, who was almost disturbing, but he really made an impression on me, and I said to him: ‘You are the vilaine Lulu.’

It is, however, hard not to see some of Saint Laurent’s well documented character traits in her love of cigarettes, alcohol, general excesses, hedonism and his description of her depression: “She nervously smokes cigarette after cigarette. Lifeless, she lies on her bed, unable to care about her surroundings”.

Lulu has been accused of as many evils as the protagonist carries out, including satanism. Between her sexually charged relationship with Gontran Pontchartrin, an old man whose wife commits suicide because she isn’t as good as Lulu, her suggestions of playing Mum and Dad with Big Kim, her killing her playground mates on purpose with rotten Easter eggs, her selling fellow schoolgirls off to Middle-East harems and her killing a love rival in a fire, Nasty Lulu is nastiness personified. Is her name a shortening for Lucifer?

How does Lulu fit in the rest of Saint Laurent’s oeuvre? It doesn’t really. Lulu’s outfit, red tutu, black socks and top and canotier hat isn’t typical Saint Laurent. Neither is her round and naïf body, miles away from his longilignes garment drawings. Writing about Saint Laurent’s funerals in June 2009, his biographer Laurence Benaïm compares Lulu with model Bettina (“l’idole aux allures de Vilaine Lulu”), one of Saint Laurent’s muses. Like Saint Laurent, Lulu has a fascination for art and culture, but hers is a mockery of art and culture. Her botched theory on Schmuck and Pluck (her two favourite words), wins so many literary prizes, including the Nobel, Colette kills herself in disappointment. Her by-mistake sculptures, somewhat reminiscent of César, wouldn’t have a place in the Bergé-Saint Laurent flat. Public love and adoration combined with rejection of her closest and dearest, is another ongoing theme in the book which echoes parts of Saint Laurent’s life.

Raised by her bonne, Lulu is a product of the Parisian bourgeoisie Saint Laurent dressed at Dior and whose codes he rejected when designing for his own label. Was Lulu an outlet for his designer frustration, yet another rejection of a world he felt at odds with? Was it his way of criticising 1960s French society, its hypocrisy and about-to-burst sexual revolution?

Yves Saint Laurent, La Vilaine Lulu Editions de la Martinière

Posted at 2:06pm and tagged with: yves saint laurent, ysl, book review,.