FA2L is for anyone who cares about beautiful things–clothing, shoes, accessories, home furnishings–and the interconnected tribes of those who make, sell, market and desire them. If something speaks to you, buy it now or hold your peace: there are links in each story, so the item you want is just a click away. I'd like to hear from you, too: please view my profile, use the email button and send me your comments.MG

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Wonder Years: Yves Saint Laurent Haute Couture

Last week, the small group of designers who still call themselves couturiers showed their collections in Paris. Some offerings were astonishingly good: Stéphane Rolland's intricately draped mini dresses and long mermaid gowns, Givenchy's vaguely-medieval yet futuristic garments (which could be worn with equal aplomb by 20-something Lady Gaga or 40-something Daphne Guinness) and Karl Lagerfeld's shimmering spill of combustible Chanel, dredged from the depths of his limitless imagination. But two men, at least, were conspicuously absent: Valentino Garavani, who has left the business; and Yves Saint Laurent, who has left the world.

We wonder–do young fashion initiates roll their eyes at the mention of Yves Saint Laurent? It's possible, especially since his later career involved reworking a small set of elements he'd decided were integral to a chic woman's life. Season after season, he offered simple dresses, navy pea coats, perfect jackets and practical tuxedos. And yet, for all his emphasis on wardrobe staples, he could just as easily shake out his handkerchief and scatter flights of fancy like a flock of parakeets.

One such magical display happened in 1988 and yours truly had, if not a ringside seat, then something in the fourth row orchestra, dead center. The setting was Vogue magazine, B.A. (before Anna), and Irving Penn had photographed the Spring couture. In that era, the images were on large-format film, and the long strips were coiled in a flimsy box. (Penn had been shooting for Vogue more than 40 years–he obsessed about photographic details but didn't sweat the small stuff.) It was my job to cut the strips into manageable lengths–something that had caused me great anxiety at first; imagine cutting into Irving Penn's film!–and spread them on light tables in the art department. Then I'd alert Mr. Liberman, Miss Mirabella and the sittings editor, Polly Mellen. But for 15 minutes, while snipping madly, I had the images all to myself. And I was beyond dazzled.

Yves Saint Laurent had taken inspiration from Braque, and done so in a way that literally allowed Christy Turlington or Katoucha to step inside the artist's collages. A naïf guitar (beautifully sequined and beaded) formed the stomacher of one dress; birds hovered in preposterous places on others; and, in a picture that would become the story's opening spread, above, a shocking pink dove wrapped one wing around the neck of that era's Most Beautiful Girl In the World and clasped the front of her gown in its beak. As for me, I was blinded by the light, and could never look at clothes–any clothes–the same way again.