The annals of fashion are sure to include a chapter or three on the 1970s, during which a young designer named Yves Saint Laurent honed his innate talent for consistently creating head-turning couture and ready-to-wear collections that changed fashion then, and continue to influence fashion now.
Yves Saint Laurent broke onto the world stage with his infamous 1971 collection of 40s-inspired haute couture. Powerfully combining historical motifs with modern tastes, the collection provoked a maelstrom of controversy.
Unfazed, Yves Saint Laurent called his attackers "narrow-minded petty people paralyzed by taboos.” The designer in fact found the uproar stimulating, declaring, “That which shocks is new. Perhaps it did not please certain press or American buyers – but it pleased youth, and that is what counts for me. Fashion is a reflection of its time."
As many artists of his caliber before him, Saint Laurent captured the essence of his era by incorporating influences drawn from the people and places that inspired him. Loulou de la Falaise is perhaps his best known muse, and would become his longtime collaborator, designing the iconic jewelry for YSL runway shows and eventually launching a namesake collection of fashion and accessories.
Loulou epitomized the Left Bank chic of the 1960s and 70s, a bohemian style that was indelibly influenced by one of Yves Saint Laurent’s other most beloved muses: the city of Marrakesh.
Yves Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre Bergé first went to Morocco in 1966. With its medinas, souks and markets, Marrakech reminded Yves Saint Laurent of his childhood and upbringing in Oran, Algeria. After just one week in Marrakech, the couple left with the keys to their first home, Dar el Hanch (the House of the Snake), near Jemaa el Fna square.
This marked the beginning of their love affair with the city, and the pair brought Paris’s social scene with them, including de La Falaise and Hélène Rochas, ass well as an international cadre of artists (like Andy Warhol) and socialites (like Talitha Getty).
Saint Laurent returned to Morocco to rest after each Paris show, and to begin create his next collection. “Marrakech taught me color,” he once said. “Before Marrakech everything was black.” This enlightenment transformed his work, and he and Bergé in turn transformed the city.
Take for instance the Jardin Majorelle, an expansive villa and garden which Saint Laurent and Bergé famously saved from demolition. Saint Laurent and Bergé would restyle the complex, turning it into a museum of Berber and Islamic arts.
In 2017, nine years after Saint Laurent’s death, the musée YSL Marrakech (mYSLm) opened, a project helmed by Bergé, who unfortunately passed several weeks before its opening. The museum and research library stands as a tribute to both of them, especially to Saint Laurent’s talent and vision, which, as Bergé said, “was so inspired by this country.”
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