Wednesday, December 17, 2008
Yves Saint Laurent at the de Young Museum
Signage underneath my living room window has been beckoning people to the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park for a large exhibit of couture gowns by the recently deceased fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent.
The $20 entrance fee seemed ridiculously stiff so I went as a guest of my friend David Barnard on a cold Tuesday afternoon.
Yves Saint Laurent was born into an upper-class French colonial family in Algiers and made his way to Paris to study fashion as a teenager in the 1950s, where through a friendship with Michel de Brunhoff, the editor of Paris Vogue, Yves ended up becoming the assistant to Christian Dior, who was at the height of his fame. (For an interesting Wikipedia article, click here.)
Dior died in 1957 at the age of 52, and because a fortune teller he trusted had already told him that he was going to die at that age, he made sure that everyone knew Yves Saint Laurent was going to be the heir to the throne of the House of Dior. His first two years at the helm were a success, but the third was a disaster, and the directors at Dior made sure Yves was drafted into the military which was in the middle of their colonial war with Algeria. After a couple of months of "hazing" in the military, Yves ended up in a mental institution being drugged to the gills and given electroshock treatments. He blamed his "mental instability and drug addictions" for the rest of his life on this particularly nasty period.
Meanwhile, in 1958 Yves had coupled up with a slightly older, driven businessman, Pierre Berge, and the two of them opened up the Yves Saint Laurent fashion house in 1961, which dominated most of the fashion revolutions of the 1960s and which became outrageously successful when they moved into the ready-to-wear business in the 1970s.
The exhibit at the de Young is huge, but not particularly well displayed. The lighting is way too dark to really see the detailing on the clothes, which is what is most interesting, and the exhibition has been installed on the second floor in a series of narrow, triangular rooms that are almost an object lesson in bad feng shui.
The show isn't arranged chronologically but thematically, which made for an interesting game. When I loved a particular piece, it would invariably be from pre-1975 and when I hated one, it would always be from post-1975. I guess the cocaine and the binge drinking eventually took its toll. Still, the exhibit is well worth seeing if only for some of the iconic outfits involved.