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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 23 July 2018

Exhibition celebrates the early years of Yves Saint Laurent 

To mark ten years since the designer’s death, an exhibition showcases a collection of never-seen-before sketches

Yves Saint Laurent in his studio at Avenue Marceau, Paris, now the site of the museum Musée Yves Saint Laurent Paris. Courtesy Musée Yves Saint Laurent Paris
Yves Saint Laurent in his studio at Avenue Marceau, Paris, now the site of the museum Musée Yves Saint Laurent Paris. Courtesy Musée Yves Saint Laurent Paris

It hardly seems possible, but this month marks ten years since the death of one of fashion’s most famous pioneers – Yves Saint Laurent. Such a milestone has not, of course, gone unnoticed, and has been commemorated by the opening of a new exhibition at the Paris museum that carries his name.

There have been many ­exhibits dedicated to this deeply troubled genius, of course, but what differentiates this one is that it focuses almost exclusively on the designer’s early life, before he became famous. Entitled Yves Saint Laurent: Early Drawings, it brings together early sketches and drawings by a young boy who was burning with ambition and talent, but who had yet to step onto the world stage.

The first temporary exhibition to show at the Musee Yves Saint Laurent Paris (the restored and renamed Fondation Pierre Berge-Yves Saint Laurent), it has assembled more than 60 of Saint Laurent’s early sketches, many of which have never been seen in public before. The earliest ones were produced when he was a teenager living in Oran, Algeria, and the later ones coincide with his arrival in Paris in September 1954.

Used as an escape from an unhappy school life (where the young Saint Laurent was bullied), many drawings show a fantasy world with lavish designs for book covers and ballets. As a proposed cover for Alexandre Dumas’s famous novel, La Reine Margot, for example, Saint Laurent sketched the bedroom of Queen Navarre in deep, blood reds, with a great four-poster bed and animal skins on the floor, while his design for the costume of Madame de Vermont shows a lavish purple gown set over a richly patterned underskirt.

The ballet, Les Forains by Henri Sauguet, meanwhile, ­inspired Saint Laurent to sketch a stage strewn with sheets, while The Eagle with Two Heads by Jean Cocteau led the young designer to create a cascading gown for the ­character of The Queen, complete with long gloves and a swagged skirt.

Despite his tender years – some works were created when he was barely 17 – there is an assured confidence to the sketches, with bold marks outlining his ideas with clarity. Although deep anxiety would plague him in later years, these drawings contain a sense of fluid energy and confidence, as if executed at speed. Of course, what makes these early images all the more fascinating is that many date from the same period when he would have been working on the ideas that would eventually win him the International Wool Secretariat (or Woolmark) prize in 1953, thereby launching his career.

A display of early designs by the famed designer at the Musée Yves Saint Laurent Paris. Courtesy Luc Castel
A display of early designs by the famed designer at the Musee Yves Saint Laurent Paris. Courtesy Luc Castel

That such a show can be staged at all is no doubt in thanks to Pierre Berge, the man behind the throne, who worked tirelessly to create an archive of all of Saint Laurent’s work. In accessories alone, the ­foundation collected and stored over 15,000 items, and preserved the drawings and images that today make up the basis of every exhibition.

One such piece on display at the museum is a simple paper fashion doll that has survived for over 60 years – whose interchangeable paper clothes are the very height of fashion. Preserved photographs show the designer’s happy early years in Algeria, a chubby baby perched on his mother lap in the sunshine, wearing a white suit and matching beret, dated 1938. Another black and white image shows him slightly older, offering a delicate smile while wearing a shirt and a sleeveless pullover on top.

Later images show Saint Laurent as a designer – by now world acclaimed – hard at work in his studio, with the trusted Berge and Anne-Marie Munoz by his side (Munoz managed the haute couture studio from 1963 until its closure in 2002), while other images depict Saint Laurent and Berge at their retreat in Marrakech in Morocco.

A small but charming exhibition, Yves Saint Laurent: Early Drawings, is on until September 9 and provides a gentle insight into the mind of a very precocious talent, as well as a glimpse into the drive that would propel Saint Laurent into becoming one of the most famous designers in the world.

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