Yves Saint Laurent: Iconic Designs of the Man Who Changed the Way Women Dress

"Coco Chanel gave women the little black dress, and Yves Saint Laurent gave them the option of leaving it at home."


Most of us wear our clothes without understanding the fact that each garment has a complex history to it. A colour is not just a colour, a jacket is not just a jacket. Our heels weren't always this high, and women did not always wear pants. An iconic figure in fashion, Yves Saint Laurent was one of the stalwarts responsible for many of the apparel designs we now consider classics. 

Supermodel and actor Cara Delevingne models for the label in a Saint Laurent Paris tuxedo jacket | Image source

"Every woman in the world, sometimes without even knowing it, has something in her closet inspired by Yves Saint Laurent." 

~ Michael Kors

The concept of androgynous dressing for women became popular because of him. Garments like tuxedos, jackets, and other traditionally male silhouettes were given a feminine twist at the hands of YSL. His signature style involved taking these silhouettes, and tapering them to fit a woman's body. Women owe Yves Saint Laurent for making 'power dressing' about more than just boxy, masculine silhouettes. 

On his death anniversary today, we chart some of this stalwart's iconic designs that still resonate with fashion lovers across the world. 

The Le Smoking Suit

In 1966, when the iconic Le Smoking Suit was first designed, the garment upset a lot of people, with some restaurants even banning it, calling it inappropriate attire for women. Nevertheless, it caught on, and how.

Smoking suits were generally sported by powerful men. Yves Saint Laurent made this accessible to women, giving them a chance to feel sexy as well as empowered. 

Image Source

After being photographed by Helmut Newton for the French Vogue, the trend gained more traction. Newton gave the suit an edge, showing a model with slicked back hair smoking a cigarette in an alleyway- an image of suave sexuality that was both subtle and powerful. 

The Le Smoking Suit, photographed by Helmut Newton | Image source

The trend continues to be popular till date, with many celebrities and stylists opting for it.

Actor and activist Angelina Jolie sports a classic YSL Le Smoking Suit | Image source

Variations of the concept, created by Saint Laurent and replicated by other brands, continue to crop up on red carpets from time to time, making it more of an evergreen staple and less of a passing trend.

Supermodel Cara Delevingne in a YSL tuxedo suit | Image source

It was also reinvented as tuxedo dresses or skirt-suits. 

Actor Salma Hayek in a Saint Laurent tuxedo| Image Source

Safari Jackets

Safari style on the YSL runway | Image source

Safari jackets became a huge trend in the '60s because of YSL. A khaki or beige jacket traditionally worn for military work or safaris, the safari jacket was a basic worn by men. That is, till Yves Saint Laurent elevated it and gave it a feminine edge.

Veruschka models Yves Saint Laurent's Safari jacket, photographed by Helmut Newton | Image Source

Yves Saint Laurent, the man, believed in democratising fashion, and this was just one of the ways in which he did so. Employing ethnically diverse models was another. 

Yves Saint Laurent sports the Safari jacket along with two models | Image source

Whether worn with a flirty skirt or leather leggings, this bulky masculine garment was turned into a sexy boho option for women by YSL. 

The Mondrian shift dress

This outfit is iconic for several reasons. First and foremost, it brought modern art onto the runway, as the design on these minimalist dresses were a representation of Mondrian's paintings. 

A model in the Mondrian shift dress by YSL on the cover of Vogue | Image Source

Fashion often borrows from art, but this was a famously unique, first-of-its-kind collection because it honoured modernist art. Moreover, it inspired replicas everywhere. 

A vintage poster with replicas of the Mondrian shift dress by YSL | Image source

Bolero jackets

Bolero jackets by Yves Saint Laurent | Image Source

The outfit we associate with the '80s—bolero jackets—were pioneered by Yves Saint Laurent.

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Exaggerated and flamboyant in terms of its silhouette, the bolero jacket was given a feminine slenderness through tasteful colours and exquisite fabrics by YSL.

An Yves Saint Laurent Bolero jacket | Image source

The turtleneck

If you haven't come across vintage photographs of businessmen pairing suits with turtlenecks, you missed out on a huge fashion trend. 

Yves Saint Laurent in a velvet turtleneck | Image source

The iconic glasses and turtleneck look was part of a larger, rather notorious trend of pseudo-intellectuality, called the beatnik movement. Author Joyce Johnson described this beatnik look thus:

"'Beat Generation' sold books, sold black turtleneck sweaters and bongos, berets and dark glasses, sold a way of life that seemed like dangerous fun."

Yves Saint Laurent not only wore and designed looks inspired by this trend, but his 'cool' lifestyle, involving excessive alcohol use and cocaine abuse, perhaps in hindsight, signified the fact that the rules for geniuses living in the fast lane are not different. 

Tall boots

The knee-high boot is everywhere in winter, redone by every fashion house and high street brand.

Yves Saint Laurent with a model in thigh-high boots | Image source

But this classic was a YSL signature as well, and very much a part of his beatnik aesthetic. 

The fact that it continues to be favoured by A-listers is proof. 

Popstar Katy Perry in Yves Saint Laurent boots | Image source

Yves Saint Laurent's legacy continues to live both under his label, now renamed to Saint Laurent Paris, as well as through reinterpretations by upcoming designers,  with his timeless style and aesthetic still distinguishable and elegant.

Actor Jessica Chastain in an ad for Saint Laurent | Image Source





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