YSL: A Feminist Icon

Since the establishment of his eponymous fashion house in 1961, Yves Saint Laurent always used his fashion to help the women’s liberation movement. Examples of this can be seen in his Le Smoking in 1966, the Mondrian dress in 1965 and the use of sheer textile to give a voice to women through their fashion choices.

As we know, up through the 1960s, women were restricted from wearing trousers at work or else it was believed they would be at an equal footing with men (a big no) and  blur the distinction between the sexes. During the early stages of his brand, Yves Saint Laurent was considered a trailblazer and the introduction of Le Smoking in 1966 confirmed it. This menswear-inspired tuxedo was revolutionary as it challenges the concept of genre and established a new era for women embracing androgyny being perceived as glamorous and strong. Saint Laurent always had a gift for understanding the  forward-thinking women like Bianca Jagger or Betty Catroux, amongst those who set the  trend for androgynous fashion to take hold.

Saint Laurent’s groundbreaking designs, including his sheer organza, have continued to inspire designers over the last fifty years. Take a look back at Brazilian designer Neith Nyer or Francisco Terra’s collections and you can see Yves’ inspired hand right away. In my piece on Nyer, you’ll see I couldn’t resist to make a comparison with the sheer organza blouses made by Saint Laurent in 1968 and the campaign with the Swinging 60s feminist icon and English model, Penelope Tree. Saint Laurent’s mind was decades ahead of his time.

Beyond his collections, Saint Laurent made the poignant decision to integrate women of colour into both his campaigns and his runways, becoming one of the first mainstream designers to showcase diversity. Among his muses were Iman, Rebecca Ayoko, Katoucha Niane and Naomi Campbell.

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In 1965, he also developed the concept of ready-to-wear collections, available in his boutique Saint Laurent Rive Gauche which was an immediate success.

Yves Saint Laurent was a talented designer mingling with artists, fashion and music icons which enabled him to envision what fashion would look like in the the future: feminist and forward-thinking.

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