When Yves Saint-Laurent was just 16, he sat in his childhood home in Oran, Algeria, and created his own paper fashion house, named ‘Yves Mathieu Saint Laurent’. Cutting silhouettes and patterns from copies of popular fashion magazines such as Vogue, Jardin des Modes, and Paris Match, the aspiring designer’s paper creations founded his passion and talent for design, as well as his affinity for, and understanding of, the role of textiles. In this imagined 1953 collection, his notes and sketches mention by name famous Lyonnais fabric houses such as Ducharne and Bucol, designed with their renowned textiles in mind. Less than a decade later, Saint-Laurent was working with these very houses, making his paper fashion house a reality with the foundation of his eponymous brand in 1961.
From the beginning, Yves Saint-Laurent’s closest partnerships were with these Lyonnais fabric houses, and this working relationship of over forty years is now showcased in the Musée Yves Saint Laurent’s spectacular exhibition, at their former studios on Avenue Marceau. ‘Behind the scenes of Haute Couture in Lyon’ explores the profoundly connected relationship between La Fabrique Lyonnaise and Yves Saint Laurent’s collections and designs. Organised around seven Lyon-based textile firms, upon which Saint-Laurent relied, the exhibition provides a window into the creation of Haute Couture collections and offers a new perspective on Saint-Laurent’s creative process and the central role of textiles.
“…and it’s you, face to face with fabric and colour: It’s you who should, in the same way as a painter with his brushes or a sculptor with his clay, plunge into the material.”
Yves Saint Laurent – Le Monde, 1983
In collaboration with Musée des Tissus de Lyon, the exhibition showcases thirty haute couture ensembles, along with numerous documents and sketches which provide an insight into the creative process and production. It highlights exemplary pieces from fabric houses such as Bianchini-Férier, Bouton-Renaud, Brochier, and Sfate et Combier, through to the ‘middlemen’ of the industry such as Bucol, Abraham and Beaux Valette. Alongside the showcased companies, the exhibition explores different materials and manufacturing techniques; technological advancements of the 20th century had allowed for the creation of exciting fabrics such as Cigaline ® and Lurex ® gold lame, which became emblems of Saint-Laurent’s ground-breaking designs, and were invented in La Fabrique Lyonnaise.
An example of these developments was seen in Saint-Laurent’s collection of nus-habillés. Working at a time of sexual revolution and an emancipated prominence of the body, Saint-Laurent worked with the times and released his collection of nus-habillés garments, displayed at the exhibition today. Designed in Bucol’s newly developed Cigaline ® fabric, the pieces were as light and delicate ‘as a cicada’s wings’, creating a transgressive transparency of the female form previously unseen in haute couture, or women’s fashion.
“What I love above all is working as if I were sculpting light. When choosing a fabric, I succumb to its lines, I offer it to the light and capture its mystery…”
Yves Saint Laurent, l’Insensé Magazine, 1991
Another stand out piece in the exhibition is the Shakespeare dress, pictured above, which highlights the level of collaboration between the fabric companies themselves. Taken from the Fall Winter collection of 1980, the dress is a homage to Saint-Laurent’s most admired poets and writers. The piece is an accumulation of Lyonnais materials, with the coat and venetian turban from Bucol, the dress from Abraham, the braid work from Mérieux and the arm cuffs are delicate lamé from Bianchini. Accompanied by many documents showing the creative and manufactural process, the piece is one of the most powerful moments of the exhibition.
The atmosphere of creativity is expanded with the exhibition’s location, in the historic hotel particulier at 5 Avenue Marceau, where Saint-Laurent created for nearly 30 years between 1974 and 2002. This integration between studio and museum makes for a unique experience and invites a new discovery of the creative processes in design.
The exhibition will be on display in Paris until 5th December 2021. Find out more at museeyslparis.com