VMFA Yves Saint Laurent exhibit stitches together triumphs, passions of fashion icon

Posted at 12:53 PM, May 11, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-11 13:05:53-04

[Click video above to tour the 'Explosion of Color' room at the exhibit]

RICHMOND, Va. – In under a decade, fashion legend Yves Saint Laurent went from amusing his sisters with paper doll designs to a global debut as a fashion designer. At 21, fashion legend Saint Laurent was running the multi-million dollar Christian Dior fashion house. Saint Laurent was a rockstar, a visionary, an artist of his time; but his medium was fashion, an art form in which -- because of his very influence --everyone participates.

The trajectory of his career as it developed and flourished is currently on display, in the only East Coast showing, at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

The exhibit, Yves Saint Laurent: The Perfection of Style, begins with the “Paper Doll Couture House” that he created as a teenager, in 1953. Through five rooms, two reminiscent of runways, the trajectory of his career as it developed and flourished is on display at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, the only East Coast showing. [scroll down to see a 360 video of the exhibit]

The comprehensive exhibit features accessories, photographs, drawings, films, and video from the archives of the Foundation Pierre Bergé, along with contributions from Yves Saint Laurent and other private collections.

There are over 100 examples of haute couture and ready-to-wear garments that highlight the artistic genius which stitched Saint Laurent into his iconic status, along with his work process, but perhaps most intimately, the sources of his design inspiration are detailed.

Visitors can see the crocodile biker jacket based on Marlon Brando, part of Saint Laurent's "Ligne Trapeze" debut after Dior's death.

The exhibition continues with his groundbreaking designs that liberated women from skirts in the 1960s, which curator Dr. Michael R. Taylor said revolutionized the fashion industry and empowered women.

Saint Laurent is credited with liberating women with the creation of the pantsuit and other articles.

He created the first female pantsuit and safari jacket, the pantsuit, and the tuxedo --all borrowed from the male wardrobe but introduced with a feminine flair.

“One of Yves Saint Laurent’s great contributions to fashion is that he liberated women from the constraints of strict gender codes,” said Taylor, VMFA’s Chief Curator and Deputy Director for Art and Education.

Visitors will experience a selection of garments that reflect Saint Laurent’s admiration for modern artists Pablo Picasso, George Braque and Dutch artist Peter Mondrian, in addition to the influence of artists creating during the 60s and 70s –Tom Wesselman, Roy Lichtenstein, and Andy Warhol.

Other garments are inspired by his love of Marrakech, a North African city where Saint Laurent lived with his partner Pierre Bergé.

Displayed in the room of "Artistic Influence" at the Yves Saint Laurent exhibit.

“Yves Saint Laurent was someone who if he went to a museum he would invariably find something that would inspire him,” Taylor said, “...of course, he made it his own – no one could mistake these dresses…”.

The final room, an “Explosion of Color,” showcases his love of a color, but also, displays his perfection of style, as the exhibit is titled. Taylor pointed out that Saint Laurent’s earlier career he was obsessed with how to change fashion, but this last room shows the work of a confident master.

“It’s all about elegance, beauty, sophistication, and color,” Taylor said.

Note the heart necklace on the last model of the display, dressed in a wedding gown.

“One of the secrets of this exhibit is that Yves Saint Laurent put this necklace on the model wearing his favorite dress in each of his runaway shows,” Taylor said. “It was sort of a way to cue the critics of what he said was the best.”

The exhibit opens in Richmond after a run at the Seattle Art Museum (SAM), where it drew close to 100,000 visitors -- in a city reportedly not known for its fashion sense.

Timed admission tickets for the exhibition are on sale. Tickets are $22 for adults, $18 for seniors, and $10 for college students and children ages 7-17. Tickets are free for VMFA members and children ages 6 and younger. Visitors can reserve tickets online or by phone at 804.340.1405.

The exhibit runs from May 6 to August 27, 2017.

If you are on a mobile device, click here to view the 360 video. For best viewing, turn your phone horizontally, and either use your fingers or move your phone to look around. If you are on a desktop, click around and explore with your mouse.