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Yves Saint Laurent

Legacy Extends Beyond Exhibit

Seventy-two years ago a fashion maestro was born. Forty-seven years ago at 25, he had established his own fashion house. Eight years ago at 63, he had retired and walked his final show. This year the fashion world lost him to brain cancer but for now, and the future, Yves Saint Laurentís legacy will prevail.

San Franciscoís de Young Museum is the only U.S. stop for the 40-year restrospective exhibit of Yves Saint Laurentís fashion works. Through April 5, 2009, the public can find iconic pieces and looks that are inspirations for many of todayís designers such as Marc Jacobs, Viktor & Rolf and Albert Elbaz of Lanvin.

There are some looks that are Saint Laurentís signature looks. The most signature leitmotif of his design house is Le Smoking -- a tuxedo pantsuit which first debuted in the autumn of 1966 and would continue as a mainstay in his subsequent collections. The look revolutionized what women would wear in the evenings.

ďI wanted to serve women, their bodies, their attitudes and gestures, and to support their struggle for liberation over the past century,Ē Saint Laurent said.

The tuxedo was often reinterpreted throughout his career. In his 1970 Spring/Summer collection, he had created a tuxedo dress, a look that has not been lost today. Stefano Pilati, the current designer behind recent collections at YSLís design house, designs a tuxedo dress ($2,055 at Saks Fifth Avenue) this season with black satin lapels and an empire waistline. For the budget-minded, fashion diehards can instead opt for a hot pink YSL Tuxedo T-shirt ($22) at de Young.

Other YSL pieces by Pilati lay hidden at Nordstrom Rack where the pricing is in spirit with the doldrums of our economy. A nylon sports jacket is marked down from $2,080 to $600 and an off-white skirt with jagged hemline is on sale for $280 (originally $1,050). All items are final sale.

Saint Laurentís style and spirit may continue under Pilatiís direction but YSLís visionary standards extend beyond the fashion house and runway shows. Saint Laurentís sailor peacoats, pantsuits, and safari jackets are ubiquitous -- liberally adopted and altered by todayís mass retailers and department stores. At Bloomingdales, contemporary designer, Nanette Lepore, offers a Nightout Jacket ($395) and matching tuxedo trousers ($295) in a faint pinstripe pattern. At Gap, peacoats ($82.50) in raspberry ice or true black hang on the racks. Nearby Forever 21, a retailer notorious for producing copycat looks, also offers its own peacoat version ($35) in plaid and even a safari trench jacket ($30).

It is not just these wardrobe pieces that Saint Laurent introduced to womenswear that made him so revolutionary. What makes him so inventive was also his unique choice of color combinations such as pink and turquoise for a gown. He recognized that art is not to be hung just on walls. Instead he used a jacket as the canvas and recreated Van Goghís Irises or Sunflowers with vibrant sequins. It is also not just his understanding of color and art but also his magnificent craftsmanship when he worked wooden beads into a halter, held a black lace dress intact by just two pink satin bows, or knitted a white woolen cocoon for a bride-to-be.

Yves Saint Laurent leaves the next generation of designers with wonderful wardrobe basics for the modern women in so many rich combinations, colors and styles. The de Young Museum exhibits a venerable collection of his incredible brilliance in designs that span 40 years of his career. They are showcased all on one floor but after exiting the exhibit and walking down the streets -- really, I see, his legacy is showcased everywhere.