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Yves Saint Laurent retires
Feature: 3/1/2002



One of the leading fashion designers of the 20th century, Yves Saint Laurent, has announced his retirement from the industry at the age of 65. He confirmed his decision - the subject of frenzied rumours in the fashion world for the past few weeks - at a news conference in the Avenue Marceau headquarters of Yves Saint Laurent Haute Couture on Monday 7 January (director-e News 7 January).

Yves Saint Laurent dressed some of the world's most famous women - including Paloma Picasso, pictured here with the designer.
Yves Saint Laurent dressed some of the world's most famous women - including Paloma Picasso, pictured here with the designer.


"I have chosen today to bid adieu to this profession that I have loved so much", he said. His retirement means that the world-famous fashion house is to close after 40 years of business.

Reading from a pre-prepared statement in his first-ever press conference, Mr Saint Laurent appeared emotional as he spoke.

1957 and model Svetlana wears one of Yves Saint Laurent's designs in his first collection for Christian Dior.
1957 and model Svetlana wears one of Yves Saint Laurent's designs in his first collection for Christian Dior.


"For a long time now, I have believed that fashion was not only supposed to make women beautiful, but to reassure them, to give them confidence", he said. "I tell myself that I created the wardrobe of the contemporary woman, that I participated in the transformation of my times".

He did not give a specific reason for his decision to retire, although he said he had been fighting ill health and depression for several years. But his business partner, Pierre Berge, said he thought Mr Saint Laurent was retiring because he no longer felt comfortable with the direction that fashion was taking. "It's not very fun to play a tennis match when you are all alone", he said.

Yves Saint Laurent's final collection will be shown later this month.

Re-defined

The reclusive designer, who is widely credited with having re-defined women's fashion in the 1960s, sold the YSL brand to Gucci in 1999 - and there have been reported recriminations ever since.

When photographed outside his London boutique in the sixties, Yves Saint Laurent was feted as an icon in the world of fashion.
When photographed outside his London boutique in the sixties, Yves Saint Laurent was feted as an icon in the world of fashion.


The Algerian-born designer became famous with his mould-breaking garments such as the trouser suit and the female dinner jacket. Admirers say his style epitomised cool chic in the footsteps of another legendary designer, Coco Chanel.

But he had been criticised for failing to keep up with changing trends over the last two decades.

When the YSL brand was sold to Gucci, Mr Saint Laurent and Mr Berge kept control of the fashion house which belongs to French tycoon Francois Pinault, who himself owns Gucci. Both Mr Saint Laurent and Mr Berge said that no one could ever succeed Mr Saint Laurent on the haute couture side of the business.

But Mr Saint Laurent was reportedly unhappy at the way Gucci is managing the YSL ready-to-wear business, while Mr Pinault balked at the large sums in royalties he is obliged to pay for the use of the name.

Fame and controversy

Mr Saint Laurent's path to fame began in 1953 when Vogue director Michel De Brunhoff spotted his designs. In 1957, at the age of 21, his first show as art director at Christian Dior spelled the end of the strait-laced post-war look.

The final touch . . . from Yves Saint Laurent's spring/summer 2002 collection.
The final touch . . . from Yves Saint Laurent's spring/summer 2002 collection.


In 1961 he split from Christian Dior and set up his own fashion house with Mr Berge. But his maverick skill at capturing the mood of the moment continued. The first YSL tuxedo for women surfaced in the 1966 autumn-winter collection and became a fashion landmark.

Danielle Mazinguard of Madame Figaro magazine, said: "He really liberated women's bodies. He made a lot of clothes for women that looked like men's clothes and suddenly women were able to a wear a lot of clothes they could not before".

He was still breaking boundaries in 1971 when he posed naked in an advertisement for his perfume of the same name. More recently, an advertisement for another perfume, Opium, was banned in the UK because it featured a nude Sophie Dahl.

In 1960 he spent six weeks in hospital after a breakdown during his military service, and for long periods he binged on drink or drugs. Even when he conquered his addictions, he remained a heavy smoker, going through up to 150 cigarettes a day, and drinking up to 20 cans of soft drink.

Mr Saint Laurent has also designed stage sets and costumes for the theatre and last year he was made a commander of the Legion of Honour by French President Jacques Chirac
Author: John Gibbon
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