Yves Saint Laurent (YSL) was not just a celebrated French fashion designer, known for introducing the tuxedo to women and creating ready-to-wear chic. He was also possibly the only one from his generation to systematically archive his work since the creation of his couture house in 1961. The 5,000 garments, 15,000 accessories, sketches, collection boards, photographs, and objects make for an impressive collection of international haute couture. On October 3, the Yves Saint Laurent Paris Museum opened at his former haute couture house, 5 avenue Marceau, where he worked for almost 30 years. Till April this year, before becoming a museum, the space was the Fondation Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent, which organised art, design and fashion exhibitions.
A walk through the museum begins with a biographical introduction to YSL in the former salons and on to the permanent galleries of the ground floor of the museum devoted to the history of his collections. The stage section has two parts — the first looks at the history of fashion through YSL’s work; the second is an intimate look at his original studio. The ground floor has a room framed on one side by a ‘wall of jewels’ and a ‘wall of drawings’ highlighting his creativity in the field of graphic arts. The tour ends in an enclosed space, the ‘mental studio’ retracing the paintings, literature and music tha influenced YSL.
Heritage conservator Aurélie Samuel is the head of collections, and curator of the new museum. Here, she sheds light on what awaits visitors at the museum.
What led to the decision to turn the foundation into a museum?
The desire to create a patrimony first arose in 1964, when Saint Laurent decided to set aside certain designs after each show. In 1982, the word ‘museum’ first appeared in the ateliers’ specifications sheets for these pieces, which were kept in special storerooms beginning 1997. This legacy, composed of thousands of designs and the documents related to their creation, is unequalled in the fashion world. All these elements prompted me to reorganise the conservation of these objects, give them a status and legitimise the creation of a unique heritage museum.
The archive runs into thousands of dresses, accessories, photos, sketches and garments. How were the final pieces chosen?
The pieces of the exhibition have been chosen according to their interest for the public and also according to their state of conservation. The inaugural exhibition aims to show the themes tackled by the couturier, from the iconic to the imaginary travels, through the first collection of 1962. Two rotations will take place in order to preserve fragile pieces.
Do visitors get to see the entire creative process that went into designing a garment?
Yes. They are able to see the creative process repeatedly: the first time in the studio, with the presentation of the different workstations, and a second time in the educational gallery, with the films presented. In addition, the sketches, collection plates and bibles in the first room showcase a draft of the process.
What are some of the iconic YSL works on display? As someone who revolutionised fashion for women, can we expect a section dedicated to the pantsuit and women’s tuxedos?
There is a tribute dress to Piet Mondrian in the mental studio called Aesthetic Phantom, as well as other iconic pieces such as the Van Gogh jacket, Matisse dress, Picasso short dress, the Bambara, the bullfighter, the cape bougainvilléers and the Russian. From the inaugural exhibition there is a podium reserved for the tuxedo, the jumpsuit and the Caban. We are thinking about organising a thematic exhibition devoted entirely to the empowerment of women through the work of YSL.
There’s another YSL museum opening in Marrakech too. How is this one different?
The main theme of the Marrakech museum is based on the intangible link of YSL with Morocco, the country of adoption for the couturier who worked and lived there every year. The YSL Paris Museum has its own collections and the Museum of Marrakech borrows its pieces from the museum in Paris.
Will Pierre Bergé, who recently passed away, be honoured at the museum?
We will honour him through the history of the House and with the movie, An Eagle with Two Heads, devoted to the unique relationship between him and YSL. Together they established and ran a haute couture house that became an empire, with YSL designing and Bergé managing it. YSL described their partnership as “that great eagle with two heads who navigated the seas, transcended boundaries, and invaded the world with its unparalleled scope, that was us”.