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Yves Saint Laurent: Style is Eternal

Start Date 11 July 2015
End Date 08 November 2015
Venue Bowes Museum
Location Barnard Castle, Teesdale, UK

Exhibition display of dressed mannequins


The Bowes Museum and the Fondation Pierre Bergé – Yves Saint Laurent collaborated to create Yves Saint Laurent: Style is Eternal, the first exhibition in the UK to present a comprehensive display of the French fashion designer’s work and life. The YSL show highlighted the defining elements of his vision, and the significant influence it has had on fashion and the way we understand womenswear.

“Fashion fades, style is eternal” Yves Saint Laurent once said. Articulating this idea, the exhibition presented fifty garments including some iconic pieces from the Russian Collection, the Mondrian dresses and the Tuxedo. The show also opened up a dialogue with The Bowes Museum’s collection, creating a unique sense of narrative around the history of fashion. It inhabits much of the Museum’s first floor, including the award-winning Fashion & Textiles Gallery, which has hosted high profile fashion exhibitions such as Vivienne Westwood ShoesStephen Jones HatsHenry Poole & Co Tailoring, a retrospective of Laura Ashley and most recently Birds of Paradise: Plumes & Feathers in Fashion.

After heading up the Christian Dior fashion house from 1957 to 1960 as Artistic Director, Yves Saint Laurent created his own fashion house with partner Pierre Bergé, with its first catwalk show in 1962. For 40 years, Pierre Bergé managed the business while Yves Saint Laurent focused entirely on the creative side.

In the first twelve years, the designer defined a new style and composed the quintessential elements of the modern woman’s wardrobe: the pea jacket and trench-coat in 1962; the first tuxedo in 1966; the safari jacket and the first trouser suit in 1967; the jumpsuit in 1968. A selection of these iconic garments were on show at The Bowes Museum – an exclusive opportunity for fashion lovers, enthusiasts, designers and students in the UK to have access to some of the 5,000 garments and over 15,000 accessories, drawings, paper patterns and objects conserved and kept by the Fondation Pierre Bergé – Yves Saint Laurent in its archives at 5 avenue Marceau, Paris.  

By making use of male dress codes, the designer brought women a sense of social empowerment whilst retaining their femininity, a sentiment emphasised by Pierre Bergé: “If Chanel gave women their freedom, it was Saint Laurent who empowered them.” Yves Saint Laurent had the ambition to dress all women, not only exclusive haute couture clientele. In 1966, he opened the first ready-to-wear boutique to bear a couturier’s name, SAINT LAURENT rive gauche, opening the way to fashion as we know it today. 

Passionate about the arts, and a collector himself, Yves Saint Laurent paid homage, as early as 1965, to various artists in his haute couture collections, with the famous Mondrian dresses, as well as his homage to Diaghilev and Picasso in 1979 and tributes to Matisse, Cocteau, Braque and Van Gogh in the 1980s, some of which were displayed at The Bowes Museum.

Yves Saint Laurent: Style is Eternal highlighted the diverse influences of Yves Saint Laurent. The show explored a number of themes, from art, lace and transparency, and Masculine – Feminine as well as featuring the different eras and styles of his creative career. 

Image courtesy of the Bowes Museum, Barnard Castle, UK.