Yves Saint Laurent himself said it best: “Chanel freed women, and I empowered them.” Founded in 1961, the legendary house that bears his name has given us a repertoire of fabled pieces (the Mondrian shift, Le Smoking, the safari jacket, the see-through dress) that offered a modern vocabulary of dressing that was confident, worldly, and sexually liberated.
Saint Laurent and his longtime lover (and business alter ego), Pierre Bergé, founded the company in 1961, a year after the young designer was abruptly dismissed from Paris’s reigning couture house, Christian Dior, of which he had been the head. Within a few years of opening his own atelier, Saint Laurent was infusing his creations with the maverick spirit of the 1960s. “There is a new trend in fashion,” he declared. “It is young and strives for attractiveness rather than elegance.” It also strived for worldliness. A master of appropriation, Saint Laurent would venture into realms as diverse as the gay counterculture, the souks of Marrakech, and the steppes of Russia, plucking from them garments that were humble (peasant blouses, military trenchcoats) or ceremonial (African conical breastplates) and elevating them to the status of high fashion.