On 1st August 1936 in Oran, Algeria, Yves Mathieu Saint Laurent was born, where his father worked in insurance. When he was a child, they moved to France. In 1953, when he was 17, Yves arrived in Paris, and entered the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture School. He entered a competition organised by the International Wool Secretariat, and won first prize with an asymmetrically draped, one-sleeved cocktail dress. Coincidentally, another prize winner in this same competition was Karl Lagerfeld in the coat category.
Michel de Brunhoff, the editor of Vogue, introduced him to Christian Dior, who took him on to work with him until Christain Dior’s death in 1957. He impressed Christian Dior immensely and in October 1957 Dior said to his staff " there are 3O designs in my latest collection which are based on Yves's work, he is an exceptional talent, I want him to be recognized. His staff said that YSL was still very young and that he should wait a little longer. Dior said he would bring him out at the next collection. But it was not to be, he died just a few days later. Yves Saint Laurent took over as Art Director at Christain Dior Company, and his first collection in 1958, the “Ling Trapéze”, became a resounding success the world over. YSL presented 6 collections for Dior, although by then the staff at Dior were beginning to get a little upset at what they felt was rather a too flamboyant style for sedate Dior. The clientele however, adored his designs. One person in particular, the Duchess of Windsor bought many of his creations.
In 1958 he purchased one of his black rose-covered tulle evening dresses which he afterwards donated to the V&A London permanent costume collection.
The 1960 Spring/Summer collection was BEATNIK, all motorcycle jackets made of alligator skin, mink coats with ribbed sweater sleeves and turtlenecks under finely cut suits. It was highly praised by the public, as one of the most beautiful and youthful collections the house had ever produced. But it caused an uproar with Dior staff and particularly with Marcel Boussac, who controlled the DIOR company. It was felt that YSL had misjudged the staid clientele of Dior.
In 196O YSL left on compulsory military service but suffered a nervous collapse and was discharged.
He returned to find that Dior had installed Marc Bohan as the head designer. He was most upset about this and in 1961 he sued for compensation and won 48,OOO pounds. When he received this money, he decided to set up his own salon with his good friend Pierre Berge, who is still with him today. Berge became his alter-ego and business manager, enabling Yves to concentrate on designing beautiful clothes without having to worry about the money side of his affairs.
In 1962 the house of St. Laurent opened on the rue Spontini In a mansion formerly owned by the painter Forain, and Yves started designing and selling his creations exactly the way he wanted to. He chose not to produce a new silhouette every six months, but derived his collections from a treasure trove of sources like theatre, painting, history, etc. Life Magazine calls his first collection "the best suits since Chanel."
In September 1966, the first pret-a-porter Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche shop was opened in Paris, at 21 rue de Toumon, which then moved to 6 Place Saint-Sulpice.
1969 The first London Rive Gauche shop was opened.
Catherine Deneuve, the exquisite French actress, is YSL's Muse. She is someone who has worn his clothes since he began, and in 1966 he even designed the costumes worn in her most famous film "Belle de Jour". She even today appears in his advertisements for perfume and beauty products.
1969 First mans suit for women, which was to be his leitmotif explicitly evoking memories of Marlene Dietrich.
1970 The denim skirt and film costumes for "The Siren of Mississipi".
1971 YSL first Pret-a-Porter collection.
1972 Andy Warhol, the Pop artist paints the famous series of multiple- image portraits of Yves St. Laurent.
1983 The Metropolitan Museum of New York, held an Exhibition displaying 25 years of YSL designs which was a great success.
1989 YSL is the first designer to go public with his house, by putting its shares on the stock exchange.
1993 Merger-cum-takeover of the St. Laurent group by Elf-Sonofi Co. YSL and Pierre Berger continuing artistic control till 2001.
In 2002, Yves has reached the age of 65. It is coming up to a half century since he started designing, and his talent is still limitless. But he decided to bid farewell to the world of fashion that he has so loved.
January 22nd 2002, was the last couture show of the house of Yves St. Laurent and the house closed after fulfilling the orders from this January show. The doors of YSL Haute Couture atelier on the Avenue Marceau in Paris, finally closed on October 31st 2002. Yves said farewell to all his colleagues and workers. The experienced YSL people have now joined other ateliers, 15 going to Azzedine Alaia and several to Chanel and Jean Paul Gaultier.
Saint Laurent, 71, died on 31. Sunday night in March 2008 at his Paris home after a yearlong battle with brain cancer, said Pierre Berge, Saint Laurent's close friend and business partner for four decades.
The Gucci Group, which acquired the Yves Saint Laurent fashion house in 1999, said the designer's death "leaves a great emptiness but also a sublime inheritance."
"This genius of creation shattered the codes to create French elegance which today makes Paris a grand capital of fashion," Gucci said.
President Nicolas Sarkozy praised Saint Laurent for "putting his mark on a half-century of creation, in luxury as well as ready-to-wear." First lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, who graced Saint Laurent's runway during her modeling career, said she had a "heavy heart" on learning of his death.
One of Yves St. Laurent's greatest talents is colour - from his Mondrian-inspired dresses to his Ballet Russes collections in the 70's. Some say he is the supreme fashion colourist of this century, unrivalled by any other designer. His colour schemes even clash elegantly. He repeats what Chanel said, "Fashions change, Style remains." His dream is to give women the foundation of a classic wardrobe, which, by escaping trends, gives them more confidence in themselves. His Smoking (tuxedo) jacket was a shock when it was introduced in 1966. A woman was banned in the 60's from dining at the Plaza hotel in New York, because she was wearing a YSL pantsuit. His pants and jackets became a statement for a new generation of women, and he said "I want to shock people, force them to think." The secret to his style (or styles because there are many) is that he creates clothes that make a woman look great and feel the height of elegance.
Everyone from long-standing fans like YSL muse Betty Catroux and Catherine Deneuve, to actresses like Renee Zellweger, Julianne Moore and Chloe Sevigny.