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.
YVES SAINT LAURENT: 40 YEARS OF FASHION
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.