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Yves Saint Laurent

Splendor and Spectacle

Yves Saint Laurent is perhaps one of the most famous names in fashion, and this exhibition shows us exactly why. From clean, elegant lines to outrageous color combinations and materials, Yves Saint Laurentís designs present a fantastic palette of fashion, its evolution as well as aberrations. The exhibition is a retrospective of Laurentís work since the 1960s, covering not only a broad time period, but also a huge number of styles, materials, themes, influences, and interests.

In addition to over 120 outfits from the Foundation Pierre Bergť-Yves Saint Laurent, there are also videos of Laurent at work as well as his sketches of many of the pieces in the exhibit. Even those who are not fashion gurus will appreciate the visual spectacle of his designs.
Immediately upon entering the exhibition one is confronted with the splendor and beauty Laurent was able to create with only a few tucks and gathers in just the right places. Flowing lines, the elegant drape of silk, the sheen of fine satin, the endless black depths of plush velvet; these are accented by a dash of sequins, a bit of lace, a swathe of sheer silk faille. The genius of these designs lies not in their complexity, for they are quite simple, but in Laurentís understanding of how to perfectly manipulate different types of fabric to create flattering silhouettes.

Placards in front of each indicate not only the materials used, but also some of the famous figures who inhabited the designs, women such as Princess Grace of Monaco and socialite Nan Kempner. Of course, the ensembles are not complete without a complement of fantastically huge earrings, sleek hats, and delicate shoes.
Further into the exhibit appear slightly more outlandish works, such as a camouflage-print silk crepe evening dress and a knit wedding gown that is eerily reminiscent of an ancient Egyptian mummy case. Covered in bobbles and cables, the gown completely encases the bride with only slits from which her hands may emerge to grip her bouquet and a round opening for her face. The bizarre nature of many of these pieces, both in terms of the prints and the construction, may not appeal to a regular audience, but they do show the creativity of Laurent, and his willingness to push (and often break) the limits of fashion.
However, it is when visitors think they have reached the end of the exhibit that the hall of wonders is revealed. The narrow, dark halls filled with blacks and grays suddenly open up into a garden of riotous colors and sparkle. It is in this last room that the spectacular, the fantastic, and the truly outrageous designs rival the displays of a mating peacock. Blocks of bright pinks and purples are combined with lime green, turquoise, and yellow; explosions of flowers and exotic animal prints cover flattering forms; silk, sequins, leather, taffeta, velvet, raffia, feathers, glass and wooden beads are the media from which these are formed.
It is also here that Laurentís many influences and interests are made manifest. Intricately embroidered bolero jackets and black veils reflect his fascination with Spain, while short raffia dresses decorated with wooden beads and topped with ornate headdresses show how Laurent intertwines African themes into his distinctly European style. Sequined jackets depicting Vincent Van Goghís Irises and Sunflowers are displayed next to Matisse-inspired gowns and a family of harlequin outfits straight from a Picasso painting. The famous knit Mondrian dresses are here as well, their geometric lines and blocks of solid color re-forming Mondrianís two-dimensional works onto three-dimensional forms. Laurent even devised costumes in honor of characters from the literary works of Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, and Jean Cocteau.
While some of Laurentís designs border on the ridiculous, they all show a deep understanding of how to use shape, form, color, print, and a variety of materials to create spectacular pieces. In this exhibition, Yves Saint Laurentís genius is on display, providing a broad look at his impact on the world of fashion.

De Young Museum
Now - April 5, 2009