PARIS (AFP) — French fashion icon Yves Saint Laurent, widely hailed as one of the greatest
designers of the 20th century, died Sunday in Paris. He was 71.
"Yves Saint Laurent died Sunday at 11:10 pm," announced his foundation, the Pierre-Berge-Saint
The reclusive French maestro, who had retired from haute couture in 2002 after four decades at the
top of his trade, had been ill for some time.
Saint Laurent's longtime business partner Pierre Berge, hailed him as a fashion revolutionary.
"He knew perfectly well that he had revolutionised haute couture, the important place he occupied in
the second half of the 20th century," Berge said on LCI television.
"Yves Saint Laurent knew perfectly well that he had transformed the world and fashion, that all the
women of the world owed a debt to him in a certain way."
With Saint Laurent's death "one of the greatest names of fashion has disappeared, the first to elevate
haute couture to the rank of art and that gave him global influence," said French President Nicolas
"Yves Saint Laurent infused his label with his creative genius, elegant and refined personality, discrete
and distinguished, during a half century of work, in both luxury and ready-to-wear, because he was
convinced that beauty was a necessary luxury for all men and all women," Sarkozy said in a statement.
During his farewell appearance seven years ago, Saint Laurent had told reporters he had "always given
the highest importance of all to respect for this craft, which is not exactly an art, but which needs an
artist to exist."
One of a handful of designers who dominated 20th century fashion -- on a par with Christian Dior, Coco
Chanel and Paul Poiret -- Yves Henri Donat Mathieu Saint Laurent was born in the coastal town of Oran,
Algeria, on August 1, 1936, at a time when the North African country was still considered part of France.
A shy, lonely, child, he became fascinated by clothes, and already had a solid portfolio of sketches
when he first arrived in Paris in 1953, aged 17.
Vogue editor Michel de Brunoff, who was to become a key supporter, was quickly won over, and
The following year Saint Laurent won three of the four categories in a design competition in Paris -- the fourth went to his contemporary Karl
Lagerfeld, now at Chanel. Discerning the young man's potential, de Brunoff advised Christian Dior to hire him and he rapidly emerged as heir
apparent to the great couturier, taking over the house when Dior died suddenly three years later.
Saint Laurent would say of his mentor: "Dior fascinated me. I couldn't speak in front of him. He taught me the basis of my art. Whatever was to
happen next, I never forgot the years spent at his side."
However in 1960, like many Frenchmen of his age, Saint Laurent was called up to fight in his native Algeria, where an independence war was
Less than three weeks later he won an exemption on health grounds, but when he returned to Paris it was to learn that Dior had already found
a replacement for him, in the person of Marc Bohan.
With his close associate and lover Pierre Berge, Saint Laurent resolved to strike out on his own, with Berge taking care of the business side.
Saint Laurent's success lay in the harmony he achieved between body and garment -- what he called "the total silence of clothing."
He was also in the right place at the right time. Having learned his trade at the house of Dior, he founded his own couture house at the start of
the 1960s, at a time when the world was changing and there was a new appetite for originality.
Saint Laurent rode his luck through the rise of the youth market and pop culture fuelled by the economic boom of the 1960s, when women
suddenly had more economic freedom.
His name and the familiar YSL logo became synonymous with all the latest trends, highlighted by
the creation of the Rive Gauche ready-to-wear label and perfume, as well as astute licensing deals
for accessories and perfumes.
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, he set the pace for fashion around the world, opening up the
Japanese market and subsequently expanding to South Korea and Taiwan.
Among his many fans in his native France was the actress Catherine Deneuve, who was always to
be seen at his shows.
But Saint Laurent's career was not without controversy. In 1971 a collection modelled on the styles
of World War II Paris was slammed by some American critics, and his launch in the mid 1970s of a
perfume called "Opium" brought accusations that he was condoning drug use.
For fellow-designer Christian Lacroix, the reason for Saint Laurent's success was his astonishing versatility. There had, Lacroix said, been
other great designers but none with the same range.
"Chanel, Schiaparelli, Balenciaga and Dior all did extraordinary things. But they worked within a particular style," he explained. "Yves Saint
Laurent is much more versatile, like a combination of all of them. I sometimes think he's got the form of Chanel with the opulence of Dior and
the wit of Schiaparelli."
In his later years the depression that had haunted him all his life became more oppressive, and at his farewell bash in 2002 Saint Laurent
admitted to having recourse to "those false friends which are tranquillisers and narcotics."
The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco have designed and developed, in partnership with the
Fondation Pierre Bergé – Yves Saint Laurent, the first retrospective spanning the forty years of creation of the Maison de haute couture
Yves Saint Laurent. Presented from May 29 to September 28, 2008, the exhibition Yves Saint Laurent focusses on this virtuoso of haute
couture, whose unique style blends references to the world of art with allusions to pop culture and social revolution. Structured around
four themes, the exhibition develops the revolutionary nature of a body of work that has marked both the past and the present with a new
definition of femininity and left a signature that transcends fashion. The display will include 145 accessorized creations belonging to the
Fondation Pierre Bergé – Yves Saint Laurent, as well as drawings and videos. After Montreal, the exhibition (which is the first co-
production of these two museums) will be presented at the de Young Museum of San Francisco, from November 1, 2008, to March 1,