Beauty, reappraised - Page 2

Two looks at the serious pleasures of "Yves Saint Laurent: 40 Years of Fashion"
Yves sees all

Granted, many of Saint Laurent's repeat customers — those names printed on the bottom of the exhibit's explanatory cards like cartouches in an Egyptian temple — still went to charity luncheons, galas, and season openings. But clad in YSL, they could cause tongues to wag, cluck disapprovingly, or flutter with lust. Saint Laurent's 1971 '40s-inspired collection initially struck a sour note with fashion critics, who turned up their noses at what they saw as tasteless "Vichy chic." But looking at that collection's signature piece now — a sumptuous, acid green fox fur jacket with shoulder padding befitting a linebacker, or Joan Crawford — one sees a kind of social armor. It says, "don't fuck with me," in the classiest way possible. No wonder Naomi Campbell wore the jacket (with just a pair of tights and heels) in Saint Laurent's farewell retrospective.

"I'm the last couturier," Saint Laurent intones in a voiceover near the beginning of David Teboul's intimate 2002 documentary Yves Saint Laurent 5 avenue Marceau 75116 Paris. It's hard to scan how serious the gently self-deprecating Saint Laurent is being — although his visible physical frailty belies the sharpness of his instincts and his eye as he designs his final spring/summer collection.

Since Saint Laurent's death, fashion has become yet more rapaciously capitalistic and pragmatically democratic: houses have become branches in multi-brand luxury conglomerates, designers sell to both Target and Barney's, and haute couture has largely become an accessory to advertising. Saint Laurent's "last couturier" statement comes off as a declaration of purity in the face of such seismic shifts. A palliative for these sour times, "Yves Saint Laurent: 40 Years of Fashion" grants us unprecedented access to the beautiful world he crafted, whose dignity he sought to protect until the end.


Through April 5, 2009

De Young Museum

Golden Gate Park

50 Hagiwara Tea Garden, SF


Second look by Kimberly Chun:

Menage A Trois: Looking And Longing And "Yves Saint Laurent"

TAKE ONE The flat, pop, almost banal brilliance of Luis Bunuel's Belle de Jour (1967) hinges not on tragically trite dungeon-mistress corsets but on the critical tension between the silently exploding, sexually exploratory interior life of Severine (Catherine Denueve) and her frigid-to-frozen good-bourgeois exterior, impeccably framed by Yves Saint Laurent's prim-chic uniform-esque daywear. These costumes continue to inspire imitators' collections today — who can forget the jingle-all-the-way opening scene, where Severine rebuffs her handsome surgeon husband during a carriage ride? Her suave Prince Charming abruptly orders their coachman to roughly drag his resistant, now-struggling bride into the fairytale forest — the brass buttons on the men's coats perfectly rhyme with those on Severine's five-alarm scarlet wool suit — where they tie her up, tear off that perfectly tailored jacket, whip, and molest her. Bien sur, this is just Severine's idle before-bed rape and violation fantasy, made all the more pungent by the perverse spoiling of Saint Laurent's exquisite getups.

Also from this author

  • Visual reaction

    FALL ARTS 2014 Upcoming exhibitions explore politics through art

  • Look here instead

    Bay Area Now 7 proposes other routes through dark times

  • Women with movie cameras

    Cheers to CAAMFest's crop of female Asian American film directors