Sunday, May 20, 2012

Yves Saint Laurent Retrospective

"Fashions fade, style is eternal." - Yves Saint Laurent

Me in front of the iconic "Paris Rose" evening dress used in the advertising

A few weeks ago, the Denver Design Center hosted an exclusive night at the Denver Art Museum to tour the Yves Saint Laurent exhibition. The event was for all sorts of people from the design community, including interior designers, kitchen designers, reps, showroom staff, etc. It followed on the heels of a day of learning and new product showings at the Design Center itself. After a cocktail party in the lobby, we all lined up to make our way through the exhibit.

The Denver Art Museum is the only U.S. venue for the sweeping fashion exhibition that chronicles the designer's 40 years of creativity, and is showing through July 8. It features a stunning collection of two hundred haute couture (high fashion) garments along with numerous photographs, drawings, and films that illustrate the development of Saint Laurent's style an the historical foundations of his work. It explores the full arc of Saint Laurent's career, from his first days as head of the House of Dior in 1958 through the splendor of his evening dresses from 2002.

It was really quite an amazing show and I really learned a lot about the history of women's fashion as well as about Saint Laurent himself. I highly recommend getting the headphones and listening to the blurbs about some of the items if you're interested in the history of fashion and the "stories" that go along with these pieces.

This outfit was in the "Gender Revolution" room, and though it's not one of the most revolutionary outfits there, I thought it was absolutely beautiful. I loved the applique on the chest and the gorgeous hat. Most of the outfits in this room had amazing hats. This room included Saint Laurent's pantsuits, which were one of the most revolutionary aspects of his designs. Before this, women did not really wear pants in high fashion. He transformed traditionally masculine clothing to have feminine appeal. One of the stories I listened to was that a woman once wore one of his pantsuits to a high-end club and the doorman wouldn't let her in. He said that women could not wear pants inside, so she just took them off and went inside. Hahaha! (UPDATE - After seeing the show again yesterday, I realized that I remembered this dress wrong. It was actually in the "YSL and Women" room and was a gift from Her Serene Highness Princess Grace of Monaco. Though it seems a little daytime to me, it is described as a cocktail dress from 1964, natural and black shantung with a black silk applique rose.)

This dress is completely embroidered with gold beads and fake diamonds. It's amazing and beautiful, and I'm sure incredibly heavy! Such a simple form, but totally extraordinary!

One might think this dress was lingerie, as the lace was completely see-through and the pink bows on the side were the only thing holding the front and back together, but it's not. It was a made to order evening dress for an wealthy, but culturally conservative, Indian woman. The story was that she absolutely loved Saint Laurent's designs and commissioned many of them, though she wasn't allowed to wear them out because they were so risque. So this gorgeous dress was never actually worn out in public. Such a pity!

The Torero outfit in in the "Imaginary Journeys" room. From 1979, it showcases a pink gazar cape, gold and pink lame bolero and knickerbockers, and a bright pink satin and taffeta blouse. It's totally crazy and I love it. Especially because of the pink.

This is when I got in trouble for taking pictures. Whoops! I should've realized that I wasn't allowed to take pictures, but I'd seen others do it and I wasn't using a flash. Oh, well. So I didn't get any photos of some of the most iconic YSL fashions, like the Mondrian inspired cocktail dress, or his Van Gogh inspired bead and sequin embroidered jackets that looked so much like the actual paintings they were amazing!

Two of the most stunning rooms were the "Shock of Colors" and the "Iconic Tuxedo" rooms. The "Shock of Colors" was an all black room featuring six silk evening dresses hanging alone in little black boxes. Pinned on all the walls were 750 swatches of fabric that showcase Saint Laurent's use of color for the evening dresses, to an almost ombre effect. The little silk squares flutter with the air movement and is really a stunning visual, and the evening dresses are from his final collection in 2002. (UPDATE - I remembered this room wrong somehow. The fabric swatches do not flutter in the air as they are actually protected behind plexiglass. I must just want to see them fluttering. Still a fabulous visual.)

The "Iconic Tuxedo" room is also visually stunning. You come into this room from the relatively close quarters of the "Shock of Colors" room and you're greeted by a sweeping three-level display of women's tuxedos. Saint Laurent was the first designer to alter the classic men's formal suit to fit women. Some of these designs are very similar to the men's suit, but many more are evening gowns inspired by the suit. I was able to sit down on a bench, listen to the recording about the tuxedos and just gaze up at all of the beautiful designs.

The last bit of the exhibition is called the "Last Ball", a collection of enchanting ball gowns. The display is beautiful, with many gowns "spilling" down a stair case and ending with the iconic "Paris Rose" dress from the advertising, which was also used in an ad campaign for a Paris perfume in 1983. I busted out my phone and slyly took one last picture when none of the exhibit staff were looking.

I couldn't not take a picture of the dress! It's so beautiful in person. The top and the bow are YSL's signature pink satin and the skirt is sumptuous black velvet. Absolutely gorgeous!

As a designer, I really wanted to touch the fabrics and feel their weight or softness or the texture of the beading. I asked some of the people who were walking around with me and they all felt the same way. I think it must be an occupational hazard kind of thing. It was hard to not touch anything.

I really loved this exhibit. I'm going to go see it again with a group of friends soon. My only complaint was that sometimes the lighting wasn't really that good. I wanted to be able to see some of the fabrics and details better, but a lot of the rooms were really dark. Also, in the "Last Ball" room, some of the gowns were quite far away, so you couldn't see them well at all. But, all in all, it was really a pleasure to see and I'm so excited that it came to Denver.

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