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HAPPENINGText: Alma Reyes

The legendary Christian Dior once professed about his successor Yves Saint Laurent, “Saint Laurent is the only one worthy to carry on after me.” Such was the fateful encounter between the two world-class fashion designers when Saint Laurent first met Dior, 31 years his senior, in 1955 while he was still studying at the l’École de la Chambre Syndicale de la haute couture. Without doubt, he impressed Dior with his promising talent that he was instantly hired to work in the elder master’s studio. Saint Laurent (commonly labeled as YSL) revolutionized women’s clothing with his timeless and iconic styles, particularly safari suits, pantsuits, tuxedoes, pea coats, and trench coats, encompassing over 40 years of phenomenal success in the fashion industry. His universal achievements have earned him innumerable awards, including the Oscar de la mode award in 1985, Award of Honor in 1999 and Rosa d’Oro in 2001.

The Yves Saint Laurent Style: Iconic Pieces gallery view, Photo: Alma Reyes

A full retrospective of The King of Fashion’s life — collections of garments, costumes, hats, jewelry, sketches, portraits, and graphic arts is currently being presented at Yves Saint Laurent, Across the Style exhibition at The National Art Center, Tokyo until December 11th this year. The exposition was organized through the cooperation of Musée Yves Saint Laurent Paris, marking the couturier’s first stage exhibition in Japan after his death. From Saint Laurent’s first collection for the House of Dior in 1958 and under his own brand Yves Saint Laurent in 1962, and other displays, 262 exhibits summarize the creator’s valuable contribution to world fashion.

André Ostier, Yves Saint Laurent, Paris, 1958 / Jeanloup Sieff, Yves Saint Laurent, Paris, 1969 / Patrick Demarchelier, Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé during renovation work to turn the haute couture house into the Fondation, 5 avenue Marceau, Paris, 2004, Photo: Alma Reyes

In the first section, we see a range of portraits of the designer — photographs and paintings delineating his adolescent years in Oran, Algeria where he was born, student days, and pivot of his illustrious career. The widely recognized Yves Saint Laurent, Paris, 1969 portrait by Jeanloup Sieff (1933-2000), renowned for his sensuous monochrome work, is on view. Sieff had a very close relationship with Saint Laurent and his studio. Andy Warhol met Saint Laurent in 1968, and called the couturier “the most important French artist.” He painted the designer in Portrait of Yves Saint Laurent, 1974.

Suzy and two unnamed paper dolls, with items from their wardrobe, 1953-1955, Photo: Alma Reyes

Saint Laurent had been an avid illustrator since he was a child, and often spent time at home drawing. Inspired by his mother’s fashion magazines, and at 13 years old having been awed by brilliant costumes and sets he saw at a theatrical performance in Oran, he nurtured an instinctive attraction towards fashion. His popular Paper Dolls, which he produced at age 16, initiated the “paper couture house.” A sample collage of famous model Suzy and two unnamed paper dolls, with items from their wardrobe (1953-55) shows their charming exchangeable dresses, which Saint Laurent cut out from his mother’s magazines. The eleven paper dolls and over 500 clothes and accessories represented his 1953-1954 Autumn-Winter collection.

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