Yves Saint Laurent: The Retrospective, Denver Art Museum, March 2012 - Photo Credit: Amy Puchaty
It has been five years since I attended the private media day at the Denver Art Museum's Yves Saint Laurent: The Retrospective, and I still remember the exhibit like it was yesterday. Hands down one of the coolest experiences I've ever had as a writer covering local events for AskMissA.com, an e-magazine founded by DC socialite and philanthropist, Andrea Rodgers, also named one of Vogue's Top 100 most influential people.
Enamored by Yves Saint Laurent's work, and a longtime admirer of high fashion and haute couture, seeing his designs up close and personal was a moment I will never forget. And as the granddaughter of an exceptional tailor, I have a deep understanding of the creativity and attention to detail that goes into the making of a custom garment. Although a bit fuzzy - and taken with an iPhone before its cameras were perfected - I hope you'll enjoy a few photos from my time behind the curtain, excerpts from my article, as well as a special introduction plucked from the YSL book itself.
As I took the number seven seat in Sharp Auditorium, the excitement was palpable. French music filled the air as I awaited the day’s celebrities, and two questions loomed – Why Denver, and is fashion art?
"Paris" haute couture collection Fall-Winter 1983 - Black velvet sheath dress, "Paris Rose" satin bow - Photo: Amy Puchaty
DAM Director Christoph Heinrich addressed this right away in saying, "The why Denver question. You can find so many answers to it. My most preferred answer is because we have the most beautiful women here…another one is we really built this building, the Hamilton Building, to host shows like this. To host world class shows of world class artists, and suddenly the Retrospective Yves Saint Laurent is one of these. And here is the second question, is fashion art? When you think ‘What is art?’, one of my most favorite answers to that question is always, art is what a great artist does so well. Obviously this is art and that’s why we show it, and that’s why I’m really proud that we show it here in Denver.”
Chief Curator and Fashion Historian, Florence Müller articulates the short cocktail dress, Tribute to Piet Mondrian, Haute couture collection, Fall-Winter 1965, Ecru wool jersey, encrusted with black, red, yellow, and blue - Photo: Amy Puchaty
“It’s the most important retrospective ever done on Yves Saint Laurent. Forty years of creation that has been designed with the huge collection of the Fondation Pierre Bergé- Yves Saint Laurent. This foundation is very exceptional because it’s the first foundation ever organized to keep the memoir, the archives of a couturier.” - Chief Curator and Fashion Historian, Florence Müller
1958 Short Evening Dress from the Trapeze Collection - Photo Credit: Amy Puchaty
Perusing the garments, each twist and turn led to an exciting new perspective. I found myself in Yves Saint Laurent’s Paris studio one moment, and in my dream closet the next. I was particularly drawn to a short evening dress circa 1958 made of Strawberry pink faille with appliqué roses from the collection known as “Trapeze” – a design in which Yves Saint Laurent crafted for Christian Dior.
Another favorite – the Scandalous Collection – featuring a short evening coat made of green fox fur, and a long evening dress in black silk chiffon with ostrich feathers. I was also taken aback by an original 1972 Andy Warhol silkscreen on canvas portrait of Yves Saint Laurent – kindly loaned to the exhibition by Pierre Bergé himself.
Snapshot of the original 1972 Andy Warhol silkscreen on canvas portrait of Yves Saint Laurent
From plunging necklines, to sheer materials, raw leathers, to pinstripe pants, Yves Saint Laurent’s aesthetic is remarkably flattering and desirable, and continues to withstand the tests of time. I can only imagine what the public’s initial reactions were as they witnessed the unveiling of a new piece on the runway in decades past, such as the iconic 1967 Yves Saint Laurent pantsuit.
Pictured Left, Yves Saint Laurent Spring-Summer 1967 haute couture collection: first pantsuit - Photo Amy Puchaty
As observed in the introduction of the hardcover book, Yves Saint Laurent - the first comprehensive retrospective of his life’s work, which accompanied the first exhibition of some 250 garments from the collection of the Fondation Pierre Bergé–Yves Saint Laurent at the Petit Palais in Paris - Florence Müller and Farid Chenoune write:
"Yves Saint Laurent did not like to explain his work. He preferred to 'let the mystery be.' Yet few fashion designers have left such an extensive exegesis of their work. The impressive number of interviews he gave, even though he refused them in his last years, not to mention his portraits, publications, and appearances, give the impression that everything has been said, everything showed. But despite it all, the mystery remains. Who is Saint Laurent? Was he a designer for every woman or the last of the great couturiers? Did he prefer the ready-to-wear fashion of today or the haute couture of the past? Was he a lover of the classical, seeking rigor and simplicity, or of the baroque, inspired by refinement, poetry, and his own luxuriant fantasies? Did he design for democratic times or for an elite? Was his work an expression of the revolutions of his generation or a nostalgic defense of vanishing splendors? Did he want to make women strong by giving them a masculine armor or did he see them as idols on a pedestal? Was he a lover of hid kindred human beings - so keenly observed behind his spectacled shyness - or did take refuge behind a wall of pride? The magazine Marie France was asking in September of 1969, 'Has Saint Laurent Brought Haute Couture into the Street or, Verging on Genius, Has He Raised the Street to Haute Couture?'"
My only regret is not having the foresight to get Pierre Bergé and Florence Müller to sign my book! Hope you enjoyed my trip down memory lane. You can still snag a copy of Yves Saint Laurent - one of the best coffee table books of all time - here.
Cheers and happy reading,
Amy Puchaty is a luxury real estate writer and communications specialist whose marketing campaigns and copywriting work has appeared in numerous print and digital publications including the Wall Street Journal, Architectural Digest, Denver Post, and Dallas Business Journal to name a few. Follow Amy at www.amypuchaty.com #AtHomeWithAmy
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