Museums in Paris and Marrakesh will exhibit a 40-year legacy of couture, while in Los Angeles, designer Hedi Slimane shows his latest Saint Laurent collection
Pierre Bergé, left, and Yves Saint Laurent at Dar es Saada in Marrakech in 1977
This week in Los Angeles, Hedi Slimane kicked off the new international fashion season with what the fashion world hopes will not be his last collection for Yves Saint Laurent. From the Hollywood Palladium, he used online provocation to encourage those who couldn’t make it to America’s West Coast. I was one of those who watched the show digitally: the dramatic high-tech set in constant light-show movement; and a collection that, while based on super-skinny trousers for men, had greater sophistication in many pieces, such as an opera cape lined in scarlet. The women’s silhouette, with mid-calf culottes or skirts, harked back to Yves Saint Laurent’s radical work in the 1970s.
Hedi Slimane’s collection for Saint Laurent, A/W 2016-17
But in its slithering or textured fabrics an attitude that pulled the collection away from downtown LA waifs to a positive march of grown-up women, Hedi’s vision seems to be moving fast-forward. I was left wondering if this kind of long-distance global presentation really is fashion’s future – even if this LA show was the absolute opposite of Yves Saint Laurent nurturing his couture house in Paris. As the international fashion season opens in New York, with a hullabaloo surrounding new proposals for when and how often models should take to the catwalks, I talked to Pierre Bergé, Saint Laurent’s soothsayer. We discussed fashion, art, books – and how all three are coming together in two exhibition spaces in Paris and Marrakesh.
Saint Laurent A/W 2016-17
Saint Laurent A/W 2016-17
I met Bergé, 85, in the “maison particulier” (town house) that had been the epicentre of Yves Saint Laurent’s life and work for 40 years until his death in 2008. I could feel the perfume of grandeur as I approached 5 avenue Marceau and walked up the entrance stairway. To my left was the former display room of couture accessories, where I had often sat feeling like a little schoolgirl waiting to see the headmaster; and to my right the Yves workrooms, where I remembered brief glimpses of workers in white work jackets handling rolls of colourful fabrics.
an evening gown from the Yves Saint Laurent A/W 1968 Haute Couture collection
More recently, I had been entering from the other side of the building – what the French call the “entrée des fournisseurs” (which sounds better than “tradesmen’s entrance”) — for the haute couture feather or embroidery suppliers. In the last 12 years, that stairway has been used as an entrance to the Fondation Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent, where a series of 20 art and fashion exhibitions has been staged. The latest one, which closes on Valentine’s Day, was on an erudite but fascinating comparison between Jacques Doucet, an early-20th-century modernist couturier who collected contemporary art and furniture, and Yves himself, the designer with a romantic vision of the past glories of artists and interior designers.
Facade of YSL at 5 avenue Marceau, Paris
This exhibition, “Living for Art”, is the last in the series and by Autumn 2017 an enlarged space will be devoted to the history and legacy of Saint Laurent, with a second satellite museum in Marrakesh, which Yves and Pierre “discovered” in 1966 and made their second home. The subject of this twin legacy was why I had come to see Bergé. He greeted me in his upstairs office, which overlooks a confluence of roads leading to the flat, grey waters of the river Seine. Impeccably dressed in shades of autumnal brown and purple — with a wine-red jacket, pink-and-blue striped shirt and tie, of course — Bergé looked like a well-established art dealer, which he is, in a way.
Pierre Bergé and Suzy in Yves Saint Laurent’s office at 5 avenue Marceau, Paris
The collection of fine art that the duo collected, which went under the hammer for charity for a mind-numbing €400 million, is being followed by separate sales — three years apart — of Bergé’s personal collection of rare books. These volumes are so extraordinary and wide-reaching, from a 1470 edition of St Augustine’s Confessions to Flaubert’s Sentimental Education, that when I saw the first lot on display at Sotheby’s I felt even more strongly that Bergé, known for his strident, left-leaning political views, was an arts patron. The books, manuscripts and musical scores from the Middle Ages to the 20th century are being sold in separate sections – literature, botany, music, philosophy — to fund the two new museum projects.
Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé in the Paris studio, 1977
Bergé explained that originally he and Yves had discussed the idea of making a Paris museum for both their art collections and the enormous collection of clothes, but that was not financially viable. So instead, using investments from the antique books and the recent sales of their Islamic art collections, the Paris museum will be enriched by a renovated display area in Marrakesh, adjacent to the Jardin Majorelle on what is now called Rue Yves Saint Laurent. This art centre will include an auditorium, restaurant and library, with the current curator of the Berber Museum at the Majorelle — Björn Dahlström — as the new director.
Yves Saint Laurent, left, with Hedi Slimane and Pierre Bergé in 2001 at a Christian Dior show
As Bergé explained the details of both museums and took me into the sanctuary of Saint Laurent’s Paris studio (which will be open to the public), I asked him how he feels about guarding haute couture’s heritage and why he believes his approach is unique.
Suzy Menkes: Pierre, there have been so many fashion exhibitions in museums across the world during this new millennium. How and why are shows about Yves Saint Laurent different?
Pierre Bergé: Listen carefully Suzy, listen to me: no one, no one — not Chanel nor Dior nor Balenciaga — kept their original clothes. The one, single house that kept everything and gave it to the Musée des Arts Decoratifs was Madeleine Vionnet– she did that when she was still alive. The only house, the only one [that has kept their collections] is Saint Laurent. We have 40,000 pieces — 40,000! Today those people try to remake their history — Dior above all. But they can’t. Monsieur Arnault can invest millions, but they can only buy dresses that come from clients. And we know what that means. The clients change everything. What was red on the runway is made in green. They change the depth of the breast line or they add sleeves. Above all, it is made in the clients size. That is why our collection is exceptional.
Suzy: If clients never kept clothes, did that mean you had to create your own archives? I know that you have stored all the YSL drawings and toiles. Couldn’t you just re-make them?
Pierre: In life I am a revolutionary, but in art I have a respect for the rules of conservation. We started keeping drawings but then one day Yves said, “I adore that dress — we must keep it.” That was in 1963. At the beginning we kept very little — we were happy when we sold pieces! The rules I developed were based on immense conviction and rigour. The tiniest detail is important. There is no cheating. I have given some archive dresses to the Marrakesh museum, but I also copied the Mondrian dress, an African one and an embroidered cape. All that will be marked and noted. I have a lot of Le Smoking (tuxedos), so that was easy. And the Marrakesh building is already full to the first floor, with the inauguration next year.
Sunflowers: Tribute to Van Gogh embroidered jacket, Yves Saint Laurent S/S 1988
Suzy: How do you feel about fashion houses buying their way into museums by paying for the entire installation of the show?
Pierre: I am on the board of the Musée des Arts Decoratifs and I have battled, because I am completely against giving space to people because they pay. We were very happy in 1983 to be invited to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. But we did not pay. And, I don’t want to be pretentious, but this was an exhibition of Saint Laurent. The role of (Diana) Vreeland was also formidable. Not just for us. She raised this métier to a new level.
Tribute to Mondrian: short cocktail dress, Yves Saint Laurent, A/W 1965 CREDIT Alexandre Guirkinger, Fondation Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent, Paris
Suzy: Your private collection of books being sold at auction is extraordinary. Are you still buying them? And have you donated any to museums?
Pierre: No more! I gave some to the Bibliothèque nationale de France. But museums don’t have any money to buy them. They are going mainly to private bidders and the money is being used for the two Saint Laurent museums.
Suzy: Yves Saint Laurent has been regarded as an artist whose medium happens to be clothing. Do you think this also applies to a designer like Alexander McQueen?
Homage to Braque evening gown worn by Katoucha, Yves Saint Laurent, S/S 1988
Pierre: I have two opposing opinions about McQueen. Fashion is not art. If you accept that Alexander McQueen is an artist and he uses fashion to create not a collection but an installation — if it is not a question of fashion as a woman wearing it — then I accept McQueen and admire what he did. But I also think that a couturier does not have the right to use his fantasies. A dress is made to be worn, not to go straight to a museum.
The two Yves Saint Laurent museums will open in 2017, with a new building in Marrakesh by Studio KO. Both will house displays of a portion of the Fondation Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent, Paris of more than 5,000 haute-couture garments and 15,000 accessories, as well as thousands of sketches, collection boards, photographs, and objects.
Short evening dress from the Yves Saint Laurent A/W 1970 Haute Couture collection