The Man who Redefined Fashion.

June 1, 2008 – Yves Henri Donat Mathieu Saint Laurent, a premier French fashion designer of our time succumbed to his longterm illness of brain cancer and passed away unnoticed in his Paris residence. Laurent began his fashion career at the age of 17 when he left home and began to work at the couture house of Christian Dior. Post Dior’s demise in 1957, Laurent single-handedly shouldered the responsibility of saving the Dior house from financial ruin.

After turning the fortunes of the Dior empire around, Laurent was conscripted and compelled to serve in the French army during the Algerian war of independence. Twenty days in the war zone left Laurent disillusioned and unstable. He suffered from numerous nervous breakdowns and was institutionalized in a discreet French mental hospital, where he even underwent electric-shock therapy.

In the aftermath of his 1962 mental breakdown, he was ‘released’ from the Dior house, but instead of being reduced to a state of despair – the visionary started his own couture house, YSL. His contributions to the fashion world have been phenomenal. Fashion-ista Caroline Millbank states that Laurent was “…the most consistently celebrated and influential designer of the past twenty five years, he can be credited with both spurring the couture’s rise from its sixties ashes and with finally rendering ‘ready-to-wear’ reputable.”

The YSL firm is synonymous with fashion trends such as the uber-chic beatnik look, safari jackets for both sexes, tight pants and the oh-so-sexy thigh high boots. He was the first designer ever to take a stand against racism and feature black models on the runway. He was also the first designer to be recognized by the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Long before Armani and co. entered the scene, YSL had already done its bit to add elements of male fashion into the female wardrobe. This can be seen in his creation of the female blazer, the pantsuit, and the ladies leather jacket. Laurent also attempted to bring the ‘retro’ feel into his clothing by emulating the classic silhouettes of the 20’s and 30’s. Furthermore, Laurent changed the age old unfavorable perception towards ‘ready-to-wear’ clothing in an attempt to democratize fashion, he was successful in doing just that – as can be clearly elucidated by the fact that all major and minor fashion houses of today feature ready-to-wear collections.

The YSL brand was bought by Gucci in 1999 with Tom Ford now designing the ready-to-wear collection and Laurent designing the couture. The end of Laurent’s career came in 2002, when, after suffering from drug-abuse and extreme criticism from the fashion-fanatics, the illustrious couture branch of YSL shut shop. However, the brand still survives to this day under the wing of the parent firm Gucci.

Today, YSL is associated not only with exclusive clothing, but is also known for an exotic line of fragrances and an exquisite show collection. However, despite the fact that fashionistas can still proudly attend the latest YSL fashion shows and save up to buy their upcoming fall-winter line, the fact remains that the fashion world has lost one of its most priceless gems. A visionary, a tycoon and a man with an impeccable sense of aesthetics…Rest in Luxury Mr. Laurent.

Rayman Gill

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