The Durham Book Festival took a multi-faceted approach to its speakers this year. The most important talk for the fashion conscious ones was one from Lauren Laverne and Laura Craik, co-founders of The Pool (a fast paced website where you choose the amount of time you have to read what interests you) on ‘YSL: Style is Eternal’ in the Durham Town Hall. With this fascinating concept already at play, their take on YSL and his quote ‘Style is eternal’ was surely going to be interesting.
For both speakers, the most incredible difference between the existing world of haute couture and the Dior and YSL power houses then were that they were both led by a young Yves, only 21 when he became the head of Dior. A couple of years later and he created his own fashion house, led on by the Dior ‘New Look’ and his own more advanced ideas of the modern, stylish woman. According to both journalists, Yves Saint Laurent was the first designer to free women from their gender specific clothing, liberating the first of many generations.
The exhibition at the Bowes Museum displayed more masculine, tailored styles than dresses, and the dresses that were exhibited were not particularly feminine. The Mondrian collection and the Schiaparelli inspirations both give rise to a more daring form of creative expression with clothing. After all, YSL’s Rive Gauche in Paris was made even before Biba became the Topshop of today. The style aesthetic and clothing ideas that YSL became known for are some of the most popular in the world- masculine inspirations, beatnik fashions, blazers, tight trousers and pea coats.
However, it is not just the creation of clothes that made Yves stand out- his approach to women, and how they were portrayed was also very different. Models became muses, and they were not limited to just being purely aristocratic and white either. Dark skinned models like Iman jumped to fame with YSL- tall, slim, interesting women began to give rise to a different kind of seductive advertising. With YSL came the banned Opium advertisement that shocked the fashion-conscious to the core. Of course, now that there are designers who visibly display all body parts- from tailbones at McQueen in the early 00’s to the more recent ‘ahem’s’ at Rick Owens, things are perhaps a little bit more desensitised.
Then again, this shock factor, according to Lauren and Laura, is why we look back on designers like YSL with such veneration. If anyone had created a collection like YSL now, they would be out of business- the advertisers are the ones who run the merry-go-round nowadays, as Laura reminded those in the room, not just designers. The popularity of big Parisian fashion houses now is due to their freedom- unrestrained by money; they are able to create catwalks and collections that make their viewers tremble, especially at the haute couture level.
‘It is not just the creation of clothes that made Yves stand out- his approach to women, and how they were portrayed was also very different’’
Nowadays, the role of the woman in fashion has changed- at the time of YSL, nearly all of the heads of the famous fashion houses were men. With changing times, the emergence of women at the forefront of fashion became more normal- with Miuccia Prada, Pheobe Philo, Stella McCartney, Isabel Marant, Mary Kantrantzou… The list goes on. Does this change what fashion looks like?
High street fashion is coming away from the careful tailoring that we associate with YSL, and for many, this exposition heralds the end of an era- the end of the YSL name and the end of high fashion tailoring, as Li Edelkoort told us earlier this year. Lauren and Laura both proposed that if we all revert back a little to YSL’s masculine staples then we might save the end of classic fashion for a little while longer.