The Seattle Art Museum’s fall 2016 exhibition, Yves Saint Laurent: The Perfection of Style, opened October 11, 2016, and continues through January 8, 2017. Drawn from the archives of the Fondation Pierre Bergé – Yves Saint Laurent and other private collections, this retrospective offers an intimate and comprehensive look at the lifetime achievement of Yves Saint Laurent, one of history’s most influential fashion designers. Featuring important examples of haute couture and ready-to-wear garments—some never shown publicly before—the exhibition reveals Saint Laurent’s artistic genius, his influence on fashion, and the creative process in his atelier.
The exhibition guides viewers on a path tracing the trajectory of Yves Saint Laurent’s life and career. Divided into eight thematic sections, it features 110 ensembles illustrative of his tremendous achievements and the sources of his design inspiration.
The exhibition begins with Saint Laurent’s “Paper Doll Couture House,” shown for the first time in the United States. The paper dolls and corresponding wardrobes and accessories were created by the designer as a teenager on the precipice of a lifetime of fame and success.
Ensembles early in the exhibition focus on Saint Laurent’s formative years at the House of Dior, including an example of a short evening dress from his successful debut Trapeze collection (1958). Later ensembles from Saint Laurent’s own couture house spotlight innovations that redefined women’s fashion: the peacoat (1962), the tuxedo (1966), the “First” pantsuit (1967), the safari jacket (1968).
Visitors will also see how Saint Laurent was inspired by art. The exhibition includes one of his famous dresses that pays homage to Piet Mondrian (1965) and dresses inspired by Pop art (1966). Also on view is an evening ensemble comprising a raffia coat and a silk dress embroidered with wooden beads (1967) loosely based on African art.
In addition to ensembles fully accessorized in the “total look” favored by Saint Laurent, numerous photographs, drawings, and production documents offer a rare behind-the-scenes glimpse into the creative workings of the fashion house and the private life of the couturier. Collection boards from 1962 to 2002— every Saint Laurent haute couture show—feature sketches and swatches that retrace 40 years of the maison de couture’s fascinating history. A room of muslins, the hand-sewn forms ateliers use to create a first draft of couture garments, offer a unique look into how the garments were constructed.
The exhibition concludes in an explosion of color with a procession of evening wear ranging from black silk (1977) to blue-green chiffon (1985) to red silk crepe (1985) gowns to a white damask wedding gown (1995)—the traditional ending to an Yves Saint Laurent couture show.
The multifaceted exhibition is curated by Florence Müller, guest curator and Denver Art Museum’s Avenir Foundation Curator of Textile Art and curator of fashion in collaboration with Chiyo Ishikawa, SAM’s Deputy Director of Art and Curator of European Painting and Sculpture.