Yves Saint Laurent + Halston: Fashioning the ’70s

Yves Saint Laurent + Halston: Fashioning the ’70s


♪♪♪ [Patricia Mears] People always ask us. How do you come up
with an idea for an exhibition and my co curator, Emma and I, thought the 1970s
was completely timely. In fact interestingly, many of the magazines that
we’ve been looking at over the past few months have been featuring this whole
revival of the 1970s. I think what separates this exhibition from virtually
every other one we have done in the main gallery is that we rely completely on
our permanent collection. The Museum at FIT has the strongest and most
comprehensive holdings of Halston in the world and we also have a very very
strong Yves Saint Laurent collection. For all that has been done on these two
designers, the book, the exhibitions, even films and documentaries,
nobody’s ever juxtaposed them. Halston was a great designer slash dressmaker.
Most people don’t know this. He was a genius at construction. What I found most
interesting is that he started off as a milliner or hat maker. Somebody who made
rigid constructive elements, much the way Charles James did. But unlike James who
made gowns that were so rigid, they could almost stand up on their own,
Halston believed in softness and fluidity and really believed in creating
garments for the modern woman. He also was someone who eliminated all
superfluous trimmings and ornamentation and really focused on clothes that would
highlight that natural body. [Emma McClendon] When I first started to look at the work of Yves Saint Laurent, I definitely held the same mindset that a lot of people do. Mainly
that he was a couturier in the classic sense. Someone who created
true fantastical and dreamy designs with a high sense of drama in them. But when I
started to examine not only the garments themselves in our collection but also
the holdings of our Special Collections library, what I realized is that during
the 1970s particularly the early years, Rive Gauche. his ready-to-wear line was
actually extremely important for his development. Not only as a designer but
also for the development of his business and his celebrity status. [Patricia Mears] We saw both
designers going through tremendous transformation and change in the late
1960s. Great social upheaval, political upheaval, was also showing its wear on
the fashion industry. Emma and I discovered as we started to look at the
objects how remarkably similar the two of them were in the early part of the
decade particularly. We were struck sometimes that when we paired these
similar objects next to one another, you couldn’t tell who had designed what and
so the way in which we really wanted to show the differentiation between the two
was to pick a handful of themes that were very important in the 1970s. One of
them was the rise of menswear and here we see in most cases the more literal
translation of menswear by Saint Laurent and it really marked the departure by
Halston. Halston decided to make almost a unisex uniform. He wore himself a black
turtleneck often made out of cashmere very simple slim cut trousers and either
a cardigan or a jacket. He made those same elements for a woman’s wardrobe. The
other thing that he was very good at was taking a simple object from a man’s
wardrobe. For example, a man’s shirt and turning it into one of the most
successful garments ever made in American fashion industry. His famous
shirtwaist dress and what made it really successful was the fact he made it with
an important synthetic called ultra suede. When he first discovered ultra
suede, it turns out he was having dinner in Paris and was seated next to the
great Japanese designer Issey Miyake. Miyake was telling him about ultra suede
and Halston misunderstood its physical attributes. He thought Miyake was saying
it was waterproof rather than machine washable. So Halston’s first experiment
was a trench coat. Well clearly an absorbent fabric was the wrong thing to
choose but this happy accident in fact turned out to be one of his most
successful pieces. [Emma McClendon] Without a doubt the most famous example of Yves Saint Laurent
looking to menswear in his women’s clothing was his “le smoking” or
tuxedo for a woman. He first debuted in 1966 but kept on reintroducing different
versions of it throughout the rest of his career. He followed up the “le
smoking” with a gangster style pin striped double-breasted suit. He then
showed a very successful now iconic Safari look and then throughout the
1970s these grew into a whole range of essentials for the modern woman’s
wardrobe. [Patricia Mears] Exoticism was very important during the 1970s. If you look at the work
of Halston and you see that he created a more narrow range of clothes and was far
less literal in his translation of non-western clothes than Saint Laurent.
Halston used the bias cut cutting on an angle and draping on an angle unlike any
other designer before him. By draping on the bias, he steps away from the more
traditional process of cutting indigenous clothing on a straight grain
and by doing this I think pushes American fashion towards couture in a
way nobody had before. Halston used almost always solid patterned fabrics. I
think this area of this exoticism section we have actually is one of the
few places where you’ll see him use patterned fabrics. [Emma McClendon] Whereas Halston was
looking to non-western and exoticism to influence his construction, Yves Saint Laurent
was much more looking at the exotic as a source of decorative elements for his
clothing. An extremely important influence on Saint Laurent was the work of
Paul Poiret in the early 20th century. The same use of color and drama and fantasy
ran throughout Paul Poiret work and really set an example for Saint Laurent.
Yves Saint Lauren most famous collections are probably undoubtedly his Russian or
Ballet Russe collection of 1976, closely followed by his Chinese or opium
collection the following year. Opium first came on the market in 1977 in
France and it caused an absolute sensation. It started out selling
fragrances like Chanel number five in less than three months and when it came
over to the US it was launched with a blowout party on board about the Peking
and then ended with a colossal after-party at Studio 54.
Though opium did spark some controversies in New York, within a year
it was selling five million dollars. Interestingly though
YSL is remembered so much for these exotic creations or non-western fashions,
he actually never traveled to these places. Though he had a house in
Marrakesh and was himself from Algeria, he never traveled to China before he
designed these collections. He never traveled to Russia. He was essentially an
armchair explorer. [Patricia Mears] One of the things that we found that was celebrated throughout
that time period was their own personal design styles mainly their homes and
Yves Saint Laurent had not only homes that were very much in the historical tradition of
French furniture and design, he also did have orientalism sort of stream
throughout his life as well. Halston conversely had one of the most famous
homes in New York City, a townhouse designed by Paul Rudolph.
The New York Times ran a major article about the house saying that it
did evoke the very essence of what Halston’s work was about modern,
streamlined, and beautifully detailed. Another section that’s very important is
the influence of historical referencing to these designers. Again Halston doesn’t
take the references quite so literally and he’s not so expansive in his use of
historical references. You don’t see buttons and zippers on his clothes. He
often had hidden hooks and eyes. He didn’t believe in having any
ostentatious and decorative element even foreclosures. So his idea was to hide
that as much as possible and one source of inspiration for that was not only
Madeleine Vionnet but Claire McCardell, the pioneering american designer. [Emma McClendon] Yves Saint Laurent, when looking at historical periods, really took inspiration from two
periods in particular. The interwar years of the 1920s, 30s, as well as the 1940s,
then on the other hand he looked at the late 19th century period of the Belle
époque. They showed his indebtedness to two important couturiers. On the one hand,
the looks that he derived from the interwar years show his indebtedness to Chanel.
The modernity, the androgyny of these adaptations likewise the volume and the
femininity and the drama of his Belle Epoque period designs really show how
closely he was still looking to the designs of Christian Dior and his work even in the 1970s. [Patricia Mears] We felt it was important to put both designers within
historical context. Not only to trace the development of their particular careers,
but to show the business development and cultural developments that had a lot of
influence. Not only on them, but the fashion industry at large.
While Saint Laurent had a champion in Pierre Bergé, who was not only his business
partner but if you will his champion and legacy maker,
Halston did not. Emma ended the timeline in 1984 when Halston lost the right to
his own name and so it was sort of a I guess a lesson to be learned for younger
designers on how to move forward as your business expands. While Saint Laurent had a
more expansive longer career, Halston is really thought of it as penultimate if
you will 1970s designer. But in both cases that decade was so important in
expanding the vocabulary of what fashion could be and I don’t think two people
did it better, uncrystallized the idea of 1970s better
than Yves Saint Laurent and Halston. ♪♪♪

9 Replies to “Yves Saint Laurent + Halston: Fashioning the ’70s”

  1. @7:13 M(r)s. McClendon states that M. St. Laurent had never traveled to Russia. This is not true. His first visit to Moscow was in 1959, while he was the head designer of Christian Dior:http://rbth.com/multimedia/history/2016/08/01/yves-saint-laurent-and-russia-a-love-affair-that-continues-to-this-day_617065

  2. and Yves Saint Laurent went on to become Master of masters with his timeless style , not just fashion but his style , witch influence all designers , he did it all over his 40 years carer as the prince of fashion.

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