Couture Is Dead

ID_NC_MEIS_YSL_AP_001Morgan Meis on Yves Saint Laurent, in The Smart Set:

Yves Saint Laurent killed himself in January of 2002. He died six years later. When you are as great as he was, you've earned the two deaths. The second death was bodily, cancer finally caught up with him. The first death was in the form of official retirement, the closing down of the Yves Saint Laurent name as it had existed for forty years. During that time, Laurent dominated fashion like no one else. It has been said that he created the modern woman.

There is a retrospective at the Petit Palais in Paris running through the end August where you can walk through those forty years, from his debut “Trapèze” collection with Dior in 1958 to the final collection of evening dresses in 2002. One wall of the exhibit is completely covered with mannequins wearing every version of “le smoking,” the men's tuxedo jacket that Laurent stole for the female wardrobe and re-imagined over the years. That smoking jacket changed women's fashion forever. It is black, sultry and dangerous. A man's smoking jacket made to look sleek and feminine, it says that women's high fashion can have everything it wants, that all the old divisions are nothing.

When Laurent killed off his name and ended his legacy in 2002, he was completing a process that he'd been engaged in all along. Even from that first Trapèze collection in 1958—which was inspired by the costumes trapeze performers used to wear—Laurent was breaking down the boundaries that defined haute couture (high dressmaking). He was actively completing a story of fashion begun in the previous century. And in completing it, he was slowly, over an entire life, laying it in its grave.