Considered by many as the greatest fashion designer of the 20th Century, Yves Saint Laurent (photo, from gala.fr), 71, has died in Paris on Sunday.
At 21, he became chief designer of the House of Dior and changed the face of the fashion industry. The clothes he designed reflected women’s changing role in society : they were more confident personally, sexually and in the work-place.
In 2002 he retired from haute couture and had been ill for some time.
The Pierre-Berge-Saint Laurent Foundation announced that Yves Saint Laurent died on Sunday evening in the French capital.
Designer’s former business and personal partner, Pierre Berge (photo), did not give details, he just said that he had died at his home after a long illness.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy paid tribute to Saint Laurent’s “creative genius”.
“I found my style through women” Saint Laurent once said.
“That’s where its strength and vitality comes from because I draw on the body of a woman.”
By introducing trousers suits, safari jackets and sweaters, he changed forever what women wear.
Yves Saint Laurent was a great innovator, who helped to revitalise haute couture, while making ready-to-wear design popular.
Alexandra Shulman, the editor of British Vogue, said he had helped democratise fashion : “before that people had small salons for rich people.”
“Saint Laurent brought it to the people.”
“He was young and groovy. Pop stars were hanging out with him and younger generations related to him.”
‘He transformed women’
The designer had been “the first to elevate haute couture to the rank of art and that gave him global influence” said president Sarkozy.
“Yves Saint Laurent infused his label with his creative genius, elegant and refined personality… because he was convinced that beauty was a necessary luxury for all men and all women” he added.
Pierre Berge said on French radio that his former partner had empowered women. “In this sense he was a libertarian, an anarchist and he threw bombs at the legs of society” he said.
“That’s how he transformed society and that’s how he transformed women.”
Francois Lesage, a famous French embroiderer, worked 40 years with the designer, and said he was “devastated” by news of his death.
“I have never known a designer who would give so much thought to something when it was proposed to him” he told French TV. “It is a great grief for me.”
Yves Saint Laurent was born in Oran, in Algeria, at a time when the North African country was a French colony and he had a precocious talent.
With its gently flared dresses and jackets, its first collection caused a sensation that set the mould for 1950s fashion.
Three years after his arrival, Dior died and Yves Saint Laurent took his place. Then, with his trousers suits, highly coloured ethnic prints and designs inspired by the art world, he took the world by storm.
At school Yves Saint Laurent was taunted because of his homosexuality, and later he suffered mental and physical ill health, for much of his life. He appeared in public only rarely.