A love letter to Yves Saint Laurent

Laurence Benaim, author of Yves Saint Laurent: The impossible Collection, explains why the world continues to be enthralled by the work of the iconic couturier
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A love letter to Yves Saint Laurent

Yves Saint Laurent in Place jemaa El Fna, Morocco shot by Reginald Gray via @myslmarrakech

When Martine Assouline approached me about this project, I immediately said yes. It’s my fifth book surrounding Yves Saint Laurent, and each time I discover something new.

I fell in love with Yves Saint Laurent’s work in 1986 and the first biography I ever wrote of him was published in 1993. The creation of this particular book, which is a part of Assouline’s Ultimate collection, was such an incredible experience.

Yves Saint Laurent’s journey is quite extensive: its house opened in 1961 (with its first haute couture collection having launched January 1962) and continued to thrive forty years later, until its closing in 2012. Not to mention his influential years at Dior – or as I like to think of it, a time before Yves Saint Laurent was “Yves Saint Laurent.”

So as you can tell, covering such an expansive amount of time was challenging. Because we had such countless material to work with, we filtered and edited as much as we could. Myself, alongside Martine Assouline and her team, worked very closely in order to publish the most beautiful book on Yves Saint Laurent. It was less about quantity and more about quality.

We wanted to express the passion and love that Yves Saint Laurent so wonderfully exuded through his designs and colours. It was important for us to create a book that depicted the emotions and passion that he implemented in his work. While this task was not easy, it was still so exciting – as each one of his pieces has its own personality.

Yves Saint Laurent’s legacy continues to inspire us today, through his unique visions, dreamy designs, and unmatched sensibility. For instance, each one of his dresses expresses a portrait of a woman, an attitude – a unique moment in time.

The vast array of eclectic pieces gives us a glimpse into Yves Saint Laurent’s mind. As I expressed in one of my biographies – women from all different backgrounds were fans of Yves Saint Laurent. From Harlem to Park Avenue, Venice to Saint-Germain-des-Prés, women in their 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s. 

They may all have their differences, but they also shared one commonality: they loved Yves Saint Laurent. Men were no exception – they too were influenced by Yves Saint Laurent’s designs, just as he was by them.

Model Alek Wek wearing the Mondrian dress of the Autumn/Winter 1965 collection.
Courtesy of Christoph Sillem

Yves Saint Laurent continues to be such a prominent figure in the world of fashion today. He challenges and encourages talent to express their unique attributes. It's not about a logo or duplicating others. It’s about one’s own vision. Whether it be African, European or American fashion and art – each has its in individual presence, which is what Yves Saint Laurent valued greatly. He celebrated a world, free of taboo, and full of unrestricted beauty.

While Chanel may be about strong manifestos and graphics, and Dior is more about the beauty of curves, love and seduction - Yves Saint Laurent’s legacy happens to be complementary mix of Christian Dior and Gabrielle Chanel. A child of both, so to speak.

Image from the cover of La Mode en Peinture magazine, July 1982, depicting model Amalia Vairelli wearing the Indian ensemble, haute couture Spring 1982, painted by Jean Lagarrigue.
Courtesy of Assouline and Jean Lagarrigue

This amazing title is both a book and an exhibition – presented just as a silent movie would be. It has the ability to make your mind wander and explore, in the comfort of your own home. It's not about nostalgia, but more so about imagination and desires.

For me, this is the ultimate luxury – having his legacy readily available for the world to embrace. His iconic pieces including trenches, smoking suits, women’s suits, blouses, desert suits and so much more, are testaments to his immense influence in fashion.

Yves Saint Laurent was inspired by the streets of the world, yet he added his vision. Beyond my wardrobe (which mostly includes trousers!), Yves Saint Laurent has deeply impacted me. He has taught me that there is beauty in dreaming, and that our imagination is so powerful – but more importantly, that it lives on forever.

Yves Saint Laurent: The Impossible Collection by Laurence Benaim (Assouline) is out now. For more information, visit assouline.com

Photos: Instagram and courtesy of Assouline