Yves Henri Donat Mathieu-Saint-Laurent, well known as Yves Saint Laurent (1 August 1936 – 1 June 2008), was a French fashion designer, one of the greatest names in French fashion in the 20th century. Yves Saint Laurent was born in Oran, French Algeria. He left for Paris after secondary school to pursue a fashion career and at 17 was hired as Christian Dior's assistant.
In 1953, Saint Laurent submitted three sketches to a contest for young fashion designers, organized by the International Wool Secretariat. He won third place and was invited to attend the awards ceremony in Paris, in December of that year. While he and his mother were in Paris, they met Michel de Brunhoff, editor-in-chief of the Paris edition of Vogue magazine. de Brunhoff, a kindly man who enjoyed encouraging fresh new talent, was impressed by the sketches Saint Laurent brought with him and suggested he become a fashion designer. He eventually considered a course of study at the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture, the council which regulated the haute couture industry and provided training to its employees.
Saint Laurent followed his advice and, leaving Oran for Paris after graduation, he began his studies at the Chambre Syndicalede la Haute Couture, where by he graduated as the star pupil. Later that same year, Saint Laurent entered the International Wool Secretariat competition again and won, beating out his friend Fernando Sanchez and a young German student named Karl Lagerfeld. Shortly after his win, he brought a number of sketches to de Brunhoff who recognized in them close similarities to sketches he had been shown that morning by Christian Dior. Knowing that Dior had created the sketches that morning and that the young man could not have seen them, de Brunhoff sent him to Dior, who hired him on the spot.
Although Dior had immediately recognized his talent, Saint Laurent spent his first year at the House of Dior performing mundane tasks, such as: decorating the studio and designing accessories. Eventually, he was allowed to submit sketches for the couture collection; with every passing season, Dior accepted most of his sketches.
In August 1957, Dior met with Saint Laurent's mother to tell her that he had chosen Saint Laurent to succeed him as designer. When Dior died four years later, he was named head of the House of Dior. In 1961, he opened his own fashion house and quickly emerged as one of the world's most influential designers.
As the last of the traditional French couturiers, Saint Laurent dominated the catwalks of the 1960s and 1970s, translating what was happening on the street into elegant clothing that reflected more liberated times. Such was his influence that each time he started a trend; it was greeted as evidence of a new Zeitgeist
He dressed women in triangular trapeze shapes in the 1950s. In the 1960s he clothed women in blazers, pin-striped trouser suits and smoking jackets, and took risks by turning the workaday parka, the trench coat and the pea coat into haute couture. In the 1970s he dreamed up ethnic prints and put shoulder-padding back into jackets.
He always did it first and he always did it with panache. Long before Jean-Paul Gaultier, Saint Laurent borrowed tribal looks from Africa, sending out models with conical bras made from shells.
Before Issey Miyake, he designed moulded metal body masks worn over silk skirts; and years before Christian Lacroix and John Galliano introduced peasant costumes and theatre, Saint Laurent sent out collections based on Mongols and Russian Czarinas, North African maidens and Proustian heroines. He was the first designer to open a ready-to-wear boutique and the first to be photographed advertising his own perfume (which he did so in the nude).
In the early days Saint Laurent was the "bad boy" of fashion. In the 1960s, women were banned from restaurants for wearing "YSL" trouser suits, and in the 1970s he provoked outrage when he showed a transparent chiffon blouse.
In 1983, Saint Laurent became the first living fashion designer to be honored by the Metropolitan Museum of Art with a solo exhibition. In 2001, he was awarded the rank of Commander of the Légion d'Honneur by French president Jacques Chirac. He retired in 2002 and became increasingly reclusive, living at his homes in Normandy and Morocco with his pet French bulldog Moujik.
He also created a foundation with his lover, Pierre Bergé-who played a great part in his success, in Paris to trace the history of the house of YSL, complete with 15,000 objects and 5,000 pieces of clothing.
A favorite among his female clientele, Saint Laurent had numerous muses that inspired his work. Chief among these was the Somali supermodel Iman, whom he once described as his "dream woman". Other muses included Loulou de la Falaise, the daughter of a French marquis and an Anglo-Irish fashion model; Betty Catroux, the half-Brazilian daughter of an American diplomat and wife of a French decorator; Talitha Pol-Getty; the French actress Catherine Deneuve; Nicole Dorier, a YSL top model between 1978 and 1983 when she became one of his assistants in organizing his runway shows and, later, the "memory" of his house when it became a museum; the Guinean-born Senegalese supermodel Katoucha Niane; and supermodel Laetitia Casta, who was the bride in his shows from 1997 until 2002.
He died on 1 June 2008 of brain cancer at his residence in Paris. According to The New York Times, a few days before he died, Saint Laurent and Bergé were joined in a same-sex civil union known as a "Pacte civil de solidarité" (PACS) in France. He was survived by his mother and sisters; his father had died in 1988.Saint Laurent's body was cremated and his ashes were scattered in Marrakech, Morocco in the Majorelle Garden, a botanical garden that he often visited to find inspiration and refuge.