DESIGNER 101

Saint Laurent 101:
A History

By Taylor M, Jun 14, 2021

Saint Laurent x Rebag

Yves Saint Laurent played by his
own rules.

The designer entered the fashion world at a young age, and his influence redefined the way that women dress. His skillful eye broke boundaries, dressing women in menswear. Saint Laurent the label represents an edgy, youthful style that captivates the masses to this day.

“I created the contemporary woman’s wardrobe.”

Yves Saint Laurent

Early Life

Yves Saint Laurent was born in Oran, Algeria in 1936. Long after, he made parallels between his upbringing in North Africa and Paris, describing the art and the culture of the city as vastly influential to the creative development of both himself and his comrades. Saint Laurent’s earliest designs are preserved in his old studio at 5 avenue Marceau, which is now the Musée Yves Saint Laurent Paris—a must see if you meander into the 8th Arrondissement). His earliest designs, which are displayed there, consist of sketches and paper dolls clothed in fabrics that he snipped from his mother’s textiles. Having parents that were both trained musicians, Saint Laurent’s favorite childhood pastime was producing plays with his sisters in which he would take the role of a couturier and play the head designer. 

In 1953, when Saint Laurent was 16, he entered the International Wool Secretariat competition, now known as the Woolmark Prize, and a jury which included Hubert de Givenchy and Christian Dior awarded the young designer third prize. The following year, he entered again, and a jury composed of names like Pierre Balmain and Givenchy  awarded him first place in the dress category, and a 21-year-old Karl Lagerfeld first place in the coat category. Saint Laurent’s work promptly circulated within the industry, and Dior was impressed by the young talent after French Vogue editor in chief Michel de Brunhoff showed Saint Laurent’s sketches to Dior, who hired Saint Laurent as an assistant in his studio. Saint Laurent started to work at the house of Dior when in 1955 he was all but 18, after only one term at the Ecole de la Chambre Syndicale, and this was only the beginning for his legendary career. 

 

The Dior Years

Within the house of Dior, Saint Laurent quickly acquired the confidence of his instructor and in turn, took on more responsibility, like designing the headdresses for a 1956 costume ball called Le bal des têtes. In 1957, Saint Laurent was promoted to Dior’s assistant, tasked with designing some 40 dresses for each collection. In October that same year, Dior passed away from a heart attack at 52. At 21, Saint Laurent’s childhood dream of becoming a couturier came true when he was named Dior’s successor.  His first Dior show in 1958 deviated from all that his predecessor designed, giving more fluid shape to womenswear in breathable silhouettes. 

Saint Laurent’s first collection at Dior was embraced by critics and is most remembered by the Trapeze dress, a larger silhouette where the woman’s body disappeared beneath the fabric, and the antithesis of Dior’s cinched-waist jackets and dresses. In 1960, Saint Laurent was drafted into the army, which is said to have taken a toll on the designer’s mental health. Saint Laurent’s stint only lasted through training camp, and he ended up being hospitalized after a mental breakdown. It was while in the hospital that he learned he would not be returning as Dior’s head designer and that Marc Bohan would take his place. 

 

The Birth of Yves Saint Laurent the Fashion House

The young, but experienced designer had an eye for menswear on women —he knew how to fit the female figure in more masculine silhouettes in a way that highlighted her sexuality and figure in new ways. With the 680,000 francs Dior paid Saint Laurent under breach of contract he promptly invested into his own brand a year, along with Jesse Mack Robinson, from whom Bergé negotiated an investment of $70,000. In his first collection in January 1962, Saint Laurent introduced a women’s peacoat that was inspired by naval uniforms. A.M. Cassandre designed the label’s iconic monogram Yves Saint Laurent logo in 1963, further adding to the brand’s identity. In 1966, Saint Laurents introduced the iconic Le Smoking tuxedo suit, which was a defining moment for the house as he revolutionized the idea of menswear as womenswear.

 

Rive Gauche

Yves Saint Laurent named his first store Saint Laurent Rive Gauche for its place on the left bank of the Seine River, a part of Paris where young creatives lived and flourished. The store’s opening show in 1969 marked the first time that a couturier in France had successfully launched a prêt-à-porter or ready-to-wear line. The space had previously served as an antique store, so it held a great deal of history and charm within its walls. The primary collection at the store’s launch was embraced by Parisian youth and was even compared to Chanel in terms of innovation, launching Yves Saint Laurent the brand into the mainstream where it would remain for years to come. Celebrities and famous models both attended and participated in the opening of the store, and customers waited for hours in line to purchase the apparel. The words “Rive Gauche” remain a staple phrase seen even today on Saint Laurent YSL’s popular shopping bag totes.

Saint Laurent at Rive Gauche boutique with muses Catroux and De la Falaise

Saint Laurent at Rive Gauche boutique with muses Catroux and De la Falaise

Cultural Connoisseur

 “I have been to every country in my dreams. All I have to do to blend into a place or a landscape is to read a book, or look at a picture, and then use my imagination.” 

Yves Saint Laurent

Yves Saint Laurent at his home in Marrakech.

Yves Saint Laurent at his home in Marrakech. Courtesy Pinterest.

Saint Laurent was also greatly influenced by places and traveled with his muses around the world. One of the notable stops they made was Marrakech, where Saint Laurent had a second home that he shared with his partner Pierre Bergé. He once said of the city, “Before Marrakech, everything was black…This city taught me colour, and I embraced its light, its insolent mixes and ardent inventions.”  
A look from Yves Saint Laurent’s fall 1977 Les Chinoises collection.

A look from Yves Saint Laurent’s fall 1977 Les Chinoises collection. Courtesy museeyslparis.com. 

When Saint Laurent started his eponymous label in the 1960s, globalization was still far from being the reality that it is today. Saint Laurent embarked on a journey of what many would consider cultural appropriation according to today’s standards, but back then, it was still acceptable. His collections displayed his fascination with foreign cultures. For his summer 1967 collection, Saint Laurent created an Africa-inspired collection, creating gowns with materials like raffia, straw and wooden beads.
Sketches and swatches from Saint Laurent’s spring/summer 1967 Africa collection
Sketches and swatches from Saint Laurent’s spring/summer 1967 Africa collection. Courtesy museeyslparis.com. 
In autumn of 1977, he debuted his Les Chinoises collection, featuring elaborate red floral prints, tangzhuang-inspired jackets, and dǒulìs (Asian conical hats) and long before he first visited China in the ‘80s. Saint Laurent created several collections inspired by different cultures, such as his 1976 couture collection, where he played homage to  Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes (Russian Ballet); his spring/summer 1982 collection inspired by India; and his autumn/winter 1970 collection, where seven georgette gowns were inspired by Japan, where he first visited in 1963. 
An India-inspired sketch from Yves Saint Laurent’s spring/summer 1982 collection

An India-inspired sketch from Yves Saint Laurent’s spring/summer 1982 collection. Courtesy museeyslparis.com

Yves Saint Laurent on his first visit to Japan in 1963

Yves Saint Laurent on his first visit to Japan in 1963. Courtesy museeyslparis.com

Art Influence

Saint Laurent loved art, and shared a large art and design collection with Bergé, which included works by Henri Matisse, Marcel Duchamp, Piet Mondrian, Pablo Picasso, Constantin Brancusi, Giorgio de Chirico, and more. They also collected animal heads from the Qing Dynasty. Bergé-Saint Laurent collection was auctioned off by Christie’s a year after the designer’s 2008 death, in 2009. The first night alone brought in $264 million, according to the New York Times. 

Saint Laurent’s love for art was also evident in his clothing. For fall/winter 1965, Saint Laurent designed a shift dress with de Stijl abstractionist Mondrian’s color block painting on it. One 1988 couture show featured dresses inspired by Vincent Van Gogh’s sunflowers and irises.

Yves Saint Laurent’s Mondrian dress.

Yves Saint Laurent’s Mondrian dress. Courtesy L’Officiel.

Yves Saint Laurent’s 1988 couture collection featured flower motifs by Vincent Van Gogh.

Yves Saint Laurent’s 1988 couture collection featured flower motifs by Vincent Van Gogh.

Looks inspired by Matisse and Picasso shown during Yves Saint Laurent’s final show in 2002.

Looks inspired by Matisse and Picasso shown during Yves Saint Laurent’s final show in 2002. Courtesy The Art of Fashion. 

Muses, Collaborators, and Celebrity Fans

Saint Laurent was influenced by a number of people, places, and things over years that shaped the brand identity of his fashion house. Two of his closest and most influential models and design partners were LouLou de la Falaise and Betty Cartroux. De la Falaise was his inspiration for the wilder side of the brand. An avid traveler and artist, she had an eccentric, boho style that capitalized on femininity and culture. A jewelry designer herself, De la Falaise was a designer that contributed greatly to the brand. On the other side of things, Betty Catroux was sophisticated, and her style was androgynous and mysterious. She modeled for the label frequently, embodying the allure of Le Smoking Suit to a tee. 

LouLou de la Falaise, Yves Saint Laurent, and Betty Catroux

LouLou de la Falaise, Yves Saint Laurent, and Betty Catroux. Courtesy WWD.

Saint Laurent was also influenced by a number of female celebrities. He designed the entire wardrobe for French actress Catherine Deneuve’s character, a married woman who has extramarital dalliances as a prostitute, in Luis Buñuel’s 1967 film Belle de Jour. A notable collection of his was entitled African Queen and featured the widely adored model Iman, whom he once described as his “dream woman.” Today, celebrities like Gigi Hadid, Rita Ora, Jessica Alba, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Naomi Watts, Kate Moss, Demi Moore, Julianne Moore, Kate Moss, Salma Hayek, Kendall Jenner, Hailey Baldwin, Kate Beckinsale, Dakota Johnson, and Kim Kardashian, and Charlotte Gainsbourg wear the label.  
Catherine Deneuve in Belle de Jour

Catherine Deneuve in Belle de Jour. Courtesy Dazed.

Rachelle Only

Iman for Saint Laurent Rive Gauche. Courtesy Pinterest.

Kim Kardashian in a Kate bag

Kim Kardashian in a Kate bag. Courtesy BrandsBlogger. 

Following In Saint Laurent’s Footsteps

Although Yves Saint Laurent officially stepped down from his eponymous house in 2002, a number of notable names in design helmed different sectors of the label. The late Alber Elbaz was charged with women’s ready-to-wear, which he designed for three seasons from 1998 to 1999. Bergé appointed Hedi Slimane director of collections and art director in 1997, and they relaunched YSL Rive Gauche Homme before Slimane left to lead Dior Homme in 1999. In 1999, when Gucci acquired a majority stake in the brand, Tom Ford led ready-to-wear, while Saint Laurent was in charge of designing the couture line. When Ford left to launch his own line in 2004, Italian designer Stefano Pilati took over, leading the brand through Saint Laurent’s death in 2008, until 2012 when Kering, Saint Laurent’s parent company, appointed Slimane as the label’s creative director. Slimane revived the brand, dropping Yves from its logo. He remained there until 2016, and it was announced that Anthony Vaccarello would lead the label. Vaccarello is the brand’s current creative director. 

 

Saint Laurent Handbags

The first bags made by Saint Laurent emerged in a time period where the world’s outlook on handbags was in the midst of reshaping itself. After World War II and the industrial revolution, handbags took a turn away from their traditional roots which stemmed from equestrian equipment, and Yves Saint Laurentw was a trailblazer in this reimagination. YSL and other houses at the time were translating the handbag norm of elegance into a cooler, edgier aesthetic that gave fashion and sexiness a darker twist. This concept undoubtedly applied to Saint Laurent’s handbags, but the category itself wasn’t of as much interest to the designer himself as other components of his collections, like jewelry. Handbags were never the focal for YSL lines, unlike other brands that would sometimes even create a collection that surrounded a single handbag. According to the book, Yves Saint Laurent Accessories, Saint Laurent did not pay the same attention to handbags that the rest of the luxury world did, or still does at times today. In the ‘60s and early ‘70s, handbags at  YSL were made by a few different suppliers using materials selected by Saint Laurent such as moroccan leather, snakeskin, lizard, and even straw and tortoise skin. The actual creators that cultivated the handbag lines at YSL were Madame Leroux and Madame Perrin, who had quite imaginative designs that modeled handbags after the unordinary like books and adorning them with horns or printing furs to look like panther print. Hardware pieces such as chains from past jewelry lines were recycled into handbag lines in later collections. The two designers created various textures in accordance with current trends and would cut, pierce, and perforate materials to accentuate the themes of the lines. 

Although Saint Laurent is not as handbag-centric as other brands, these bags have drummed up a large amount of respect and desire in the luxury accessories industry because of what they represent The brand is currently popular for it’s key handbags that are easily recognizable on the street – the Sac de Jour is a popular bag that comes in an array of materials and colors from croc embossed leather to orange calfskin. The LouLou is a quilted crossbody that has become a staple in the luxury handbag realm, as well as the Kaia bag which comes in regular sizes as well as novelty minis. The handbags and clothes produced by Saint Laurent are indicative of an identity that reflects the cool left-bank style that YSL originally cultivated, which is still demanded today by the masses. 

 

Saint Laurent Market Outlook

Overall, Saint Laurent is one of the most popular brands in the handbag resale market in recent years, especially those designs from Hedi Slimane, who was creative director 2012 to 2016, and its current creative director Anthony Vaccarello, who started in 2016. Due to its classic, yet chic styles and true Parisian spirit, many Saint Laurent bags can retain their value and sell at least 75 to 80 percent of the retail value at Rebag. According to Rebag’s buying team, the best selling Saint Laurent bags on the platform include Sac de Jour bag, Classic Monogram wallet on chain, LouLou shoulder bag, Classic Monogram Envelope satchel, and the Niki chain flap bag. 

 

YSL Bags Size Reference

Teddy Bucket Bag Leather Mini

Teddy Bucket Bag Leather Mini

8″W x 10″H x 4″D
21″ strap drop

Kate Tassel Crossbody Bag Medium

Kate Tassel Crossbody Bag Medium

9″W x 6″H x 2″D
19.5″ strap drop

Rive Gauche
Tote

Rive Gauche Tote

14.5″W x 15″H x 7″D
5″ handle drop

LouLou Shoulder Bag Medium

LouLou Shoulder Bag Medium

11.5″W x 7.5″H x 4.5″D
11″ handle drop
19″ strap drop

Lou Camera Bag
Small

Lou Camera Bag Small

9″W x 6″H x 2.5″D
23-26″ strap drop

Kaia
Mini

Kaia Mini

6″W x 5″H x 2″D
22-23″ strap drop

Muse
Medium

Muse Medium

14.5″W x 9″H x 5″D
7″ handle drop

Sac de Jour
Small

Sac de Jour Small

12.5″W x 10″H x 6″D
4″ handle drop

Sunset
Medium

Sunset Medium

8.5″W x 7″H x 3″D
12″ handle drop
21.5″ strap drop

Materials/Hardware


Saint Laurent bags are made in a variety of materials, from leather and velvet, to linen, raffia, and canvas. Hardware ranges from silver to gold hues. 

 

Handbag Range/Special Editions

Teddy

Teddy Bucket Bag Leather Mini

Saint Laurent’s bucket bag silhouette can be closed with two drawstrings and has a chain shoulder strap. It comes in a number of colorways and patterns.

LouLou

Lou Lou
Identified by its rectangular shape, flap, and quilted chevron stripes — the LouLou bag was named after his muse and director LouLou de la Falaise. 

Kate

YSL Kate

Perfect for an evening out, the rectangular Kate shoulder bag is decorated with the gold YSL monogram and a tassel. Want a clutch? Simply detach the shoulder strap on this YSL bag.

Lou Bag

YSL Lou Bag

Saint Laurent’s Lou bag is a classic crossbody camera bag with a metallic YSL logo on the front and a leather tassel that hangs on the side from the shoulder strap. 

Muse

Muse Medium
Introduced by Stefano Pilati in 2005, and released in February 2006, the Muse bag was Saint Laurent’s It bag of the aughts.

Sac de Jour

Sac de Jour

After succeeding Pilati in 2012, Hedi Slimane debuted the popular Sac de Jour in 2013 and the rectangular bag with the new Saint Laurent logo became an immediate hit.

Sunset

Sunset

Slimane released the Sunset, named after Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles, where the designer lived during his stint, in 2016. It features a chain shoulder strap, the YSL monogram on the front, and two interior compartments.

Rive Gauche Tote

Rive Gauche Tote

Versatile enough to be a book back, beach bag, or weekender bag, the Rive Gauche tote carries Saint Laurent’s iconic Rive Gauche logo with leather handles and a canvas, linen, or raffia body.

Saint Laurent All Over

Saint Laurent All Over

For autumn/winter 2019, Anthony Vaccarello released this Saint Laurent bag, the All Over, which capitalized on the logo trend with the YSL monogram all over the canvas bag, giving a vintage feel to the new design.

Saint Laurent Kaia

Kaia Mini

Vaccarello unveiled the Kaia bag at the spring/summer 2020 Saint Laurent show, naming it after his current muse, model Kaia Gerber. The crossbody satchel features a flap and the YSL monogram logo.

Accessories Range

LouLou Heart Sunglasses

LouLou Heart Sunglasses

Hedi Slimane debuted these heart-shaped Saint Laurent sunglasses during his tenure at Saint Laurent.

Classic Monogram Card Case

Classic Monogram Card Case

Monogram Zippered Bifold Wallet

Monogram Zippered Bifold Wallet

Spark some whimsy with this star-dotted YSL wallet.

Classic Monogram Card Holder

Classic Monogram Card Holder

Fragment Zip Card Holder Leather with Appliqué

Fragment Zip Card Holder Leather with Appliqué

Classic Monogram Flap Wallet Large

Classic Monogram Flap Wallet Large

Make a statement with this bold yellow Saint Laurent wallet. 

Zip Pouch Patch Embellished Leather

The Elsa Peretti Open-Heart Pendant