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Shy genius

Shy genius

15 Jan 2013 BY Dominique's Villas

Yves Saint-Laurent had the unenviable task of emulating his former boss and mentor, Christian Dior, shortly after his death, in presenting his first collection, when barely 21, in January 1958. Entitled the Trapèze, it blended the opulence and dazzling workmanship of Dior’s designs with much greater fluidity. Crowds gathered in the streets chanting his name and a prominent Frenchwoman was so overcome by one of the new fashions being modelled, that she turned to a neighbour and said, “France is saved. It’s Joan of Arc.”

Born Henri Matthieu in Algeria, Saint-Laurent was painfully shy. Completely overcome by the enthusiasm for his January 1962 collection, he hid in a convenient cupboard until the critics had left.

Many of his fashions were much more ready-to-wear than those of his rivals, and Saint-Laurent turned a blind eye when copies appeared in the high street. The more people who actually wore his clothes, the better he liked it. He reckoned his greatest achievement was the adaptation of men’s wear for women, showing, as he put it, that nothing was sacred.

Some of his richer clients were traumatised when Saint-Laurent announced in January 2002 that this was his last annual collection, and that he was closing his couture house. “There’s only one thing for it,” said one, “I’ll have to go naked.”