Style Is Eternal

Yves Saint Laurent exhibition makes only East Coast stop at VMFA.

Bambara Art-inspired evening ensemble by Yves Saint Laurent, 1967.

Rare is the creation not already seen from the oeuvre of a designer as celebrated as the late Yves Saint Laurent, but that’s what a special exhibition on display at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts May 6–Aug. 27 promises.

Along with more than 100 haute couture and ready-to-wear garments from the archive of the Fondation Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent in Paris and other private collections—some not shown in public before—the exhibition includes the Algerian-born style savant’s Paper Doll Couture House, created when he was a teenager in the early 1950s. Being shown for the first time in the U.S., it is a collection of the hundreds of garments and accessories the young Saint Laurent created for models he cut from magazines, and a glimpse into the developing mind of the artist who would lead the House of Dior at just 21, and later revolutionize fashion with his rule-breaking aesthetic.

“You’ll see not just garments, but a really thrilling story .… and a very serious review of a brillant designer’s career,” says the VMFA’s Barry Shifman, organizing curator for the exhibition created by Florence Müller with the Seattle Art Museum. 

In addition to the garments and hundreds of accessories—hats, purses, shoes and jewelry—the exhibition comprises drawings, collection boards, photos, press clippings, audio, video and other behind-the-scenes items that reveal the development of the couturier’s style. 

Paper doll, circa 1950.

The exhibition begins with Saint Laurent as a boy in Oran, Algeria, and then features his work for Christian Dior beginning in 1958, including his famous trapeze dress. It delves into themes that would manifest in Saint Laurent’s clothing throughout his 44-year career; issues, such as gender identification as in “Le Smoking,” the women’s tuxedo he designed in 1966. A gallery devoted to the process of garment construction features photos from the Saint Laurent atelier and items demonstrating the techniques he employed. His influences are explored too, showing how he drew inspiration from artists like Piet Mondrian and the pop art of the 1950s. 

Saint Laurent “incorporated life into his garments,” says Shifman. “He was someone very responsive to what was going on in the world, not just a haute couture one of a kind, he was really broader than that, and that’s what the exhibition shows.” Yves Saint Laurent: The Perfection of Style,

For an exclusive video of the exhibition, click here.

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