Yves Saint Laurent: A Career Retrospective

Published in: Just For Fun, News

I played hooky earlier this week and drove into San Francisco to visit the de Young museum in Golden Gate Park. The museum has on display a new exhibit featuring a career retrospective of clothing designer Yves Saint Laurent, who passed away on June 1 of this year.


Yves Mathieu-Saint-Laurent was born on August 1, 1936 in Oran, Algeria, at the time a French colony.

Yves Saint Laurent

I don’t really know much about Yves Saint Laurent clothes (they’re out of my Old Navy budget), but I’ve seen and played with the YSL luxe makeup line at Nordies and Sephora and have always been curious about the man, so I thought the exhibit might be cool.

A cocktail dress and hat, circa 1960. I’d so rock this in a heartbeat!

The exhibit features over 130 original Yves Saint Laurent designs from the ’60s to the present day, outfits ranging from sleek, sophisticated cocktail dresses to intricate haute couture gowns.

Beyond presenting his clothes, the exhibit explores the man and what had been some of his sources of inspiration during his life — art, theatre, history, literature and nature.

There aren’t any compacts or lipsticks in the hizz, but I think his influence on the entire world of beauty, from fashion to cosmetics, comes through in the patterns and colors of his clothes.

He Changed How We Dress

Ah, the pantsuit. There are several pant suits and tuxedos up in the mix, items that were signature to YSL style. In the 1960s, YSL designed and dressed women in clothes that had historically symbolized male power. The shift signaled a revolution in the history of women’s clothing. Now we wear pants day and night!

A Shakespeare-inspired haute couture gown

Couture Gowns

Who doesn’t like pants, right? Heck, I wear pants like *every* day!, but YSL was also a master of the haute couture gown.

Before my trip to the museum this week, I’d never seen a haute couture gown in person. Fo sho, they’re extremely detailed — the pleating, bead work and embroidery — but in general they’re not something you’d wear to the library on a Tuesday. It took every ounce of willpower to refrain from touching.

Haute couture designs are made-to-order and custom-fitted, a very time consuming process. Garments are made from high quality fabrics and usually sewn by hand.

The French Chamber of Commerce has in place a set of rules and standards covering use of the term “haute couture,” restricting its use to cover garments that have been made-to-order for private clients in which at least one personal fitting has taken place. That’s not all… The design house (atelier) must have at least 15 full time employees and present collections with a minimum of 35 day and evening wear looks at least twice per year to the Paris press.

Sorry, Miss, No Pictures

That’s the thing about museums… They’re usually look but don’t touch. That, and they usually prohibit flash, if not all photography, which was the case here. I managed to take exactly THREE shots on the d-low with my camera phone until I got busted by one of the roving museum security guards. CRAP. Sorry these look so Blair Witch Project.

(Note to file: Once security guards have told you that photos aren’t allowed, pretending you don’t speak English works two, three times MAX.)

After the exhibit I went to the museum store to look through a few of the fashion books.

A Chanel book *almost* came home with me, but I decided against it and went with a few Yves Saint Laurent postcards instead.

The Yves Saint Laurent exhibit at the San Francisco de Young museum in Golden Gate Park runs through April 5, 2009. Admission to the museum is $10, with an extra $10 for entrance to the YSL exhibit ($20 total).

If you’re ever feeling blue or just need to escape with your thoughts for a while, check your local museums because most offer a free day during the week or month when they wave their regular admission.

Your friendly neighborhood beauty addict,



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So far, 39 people have commented on this article. How cool is that?

  1. Vivian says:

    YSL is truly the trend setter, if that’s the word. but not blindly follows. I think his pieces are elegant and has hint of man-power in it. Whereas his gowns are just very HAUTE, I can’t find words to describe it. LOL so Daring + Creativity + Power = YSL

    Actually I have that face powder with the big bow tied to the behind dress.

    RIP, YSL, I’ll miss him and I hope his work will always be with YSL fashion line and cosmetics.

  2. cloudburst says:

    Wow, I would love to see that retrospective! Definetly worth playing hooky for :).

  3. pepper says:

    I can’t wait to check this out! Did you see the Vivienne Westwood exhibit that they had a couple of years ago? It was AMAZING!

  4. Dao says:

    OooOOhh, so pretty! All the museums downtown has a Friday museum hop at the first Friday of the month (tomorrow!) The MoSA (Museum of Science and Arts) is off the chain! So tomorrow night, if not raining or too cold, I’ll museum hop a bit 🙂 Thank you Karen!

    Dao´s last blog post..Tagged and Untagged

  5. p. potter says:

    I saw the Chihuly exhibit at the De Young about a month ago, and then took a trip to the new California Academy of Sciences (natural history museum). Tres cool. The best part of living in the Bay Area is that I can drive to San Francisco whenever I feel like it–but don’t have to live there.

    But I might have to just take another trip to the De Young for this one.

  6. Katee says:

    Seeing this exhibit is definitely something I want to do soon! Thanks for sharing.

    Katee´s last blog post..BB Couture for Nails: Official Product Review!

  7. Tekoa says:

    Flash photography degrades the pigment in the item. Very bad for paintings, fabrics and the like. Not sure what the problem is against non-flash photography.

    I have to ask, what was he thinking designing the bridal cocoon? Did he seriously believe people would walk down the isle in it?

  8. meimei says:

    They have a postcard with the YSL Mondrian dress? Sweet!

    meimei´s last blog post..These Are Not the Pants That You Are Looking For…

  9. Sylvie says:

    As you know, I live in Paris and when I went to fashion and textiles museum last year, they had a special exhibit with Christian Lacroix’s designs. It really makes me wonder who buys the haute couture gowns? I mean when do they EVER get to wear it?

  10. Karen B says:

    Wow, looks AMAZING.

    Karen B´s last blog post..Top 200 my ass

  11. Fie says:

    Wow that’s amazing! I would really love to go through the exhibition. It was so sad when he passed away…and made me more worried. He was only 3 years older than my own parents. 🙁

  12. Music_Is_Freedom says:

    I saw this exhibit a few months ago during its premiere run in Montreal, and seeing these photos just took me back to gazing in awe at YSL’s amazing designs.

  13. Joseph says:

    Security guards are such jerks at the de Young. You’re lucky that they didn’t make you delete the pics from your camera. They almost tossed me out of the museum for taking non flash photography at the nan kempner exhibit and they made me delete every one i’d taken. i’ll have to be craftier at the YSL exhibit. maybe I’ll stop by the spy store or have a conspirator fake some kind of medical emergency until i get pics of the dresses. it’s an evil plan that’s both unnecessary and kind of sad.

    Joseph´s last blog post..Thursday, November 6

  14. lexi says:

    I was supposed to go to this on Monday but the museum was closed – sigh! I’m so jealous – I am dying to go to this exhibit. Hopefully I will go soon! He made the androgynous tux for women sexy – you ever see his collaboration with Helmut Newton? Hot! I would be tempted to take all those fashion books home with me!

  15. lexi says:

    oh and btw – I loved the YSL skincare line! I don’t know if they changed formulas but I used it like 5 yrs ago.

  16. Karen says:

    Hi Vivian,

    That face powder sounds really cute. I really liked all the dresses which were featured next to the dress with the big bow. Unfortunately that corner was super dark. The Marilyn-inspired dresses just looked so luxe and elegant! Loved ’em!

  17. Miss QQ says:

    Hi Karen. Those pics are so amazing. Thank you for taking them LOL!

  18. Karen says:

    Hi Cloudburst,

    🙂 LOL, great minds think alike.

    It was fun… it’s been awhile since I’ve done that so I really enjoyed it.

    How are you doing? I’m so ready for the weekend.

  19. Karen says:

    Hi Pepper,

    My dumbass missed that one! 🙁 I am still kicking myself for it. I bet it was fantastic!

  20. Karen says:

    Hi Dao,

    That sounds like a lot of fun. Which museum is your favorite? In SF mine is still the Legion of Honor. I used to live in the neighborhood and loved running by it!

  21. Karen says:

    Hi P. Potter,

    I have yet to go to the new California Academy of Sciences. I will have to hit it up on a free Tuesday.

    How long have you lived in the Bay Area?

  22. Karen says:

    Hi Katee,

    You’re welcome! If you go on the first Tuesday of the month they waive the admission fee and you only have to pay $10. 🙂

  23. Karen says:

    Hi Tekoa,

    Maybe people in cold countries! I kinda want one so I can sleep in it when the weather gets cold.

  24. Karen says:

    Hi Meimei,

    That was one of three Mondrian dresses at the exhibit. I tried so hard to take a snap shot but the universe was aligned against me (people would be in the frame, the security guard would swoop by, etc.).

    The Mondrian dress is one of my faves. I want one, I want one!

  25. Karen says:

    Hi Sylvie,

    I have wondered the same thing. I would still love to attend a really grand and outrageous party in an haute couture gown… that would be fun (and possibly very uncomfortable).

  26. Karen says:

    Hi Karen B.,

    It was! If you perchance end up in SF before April (hey, ya never know), you should put it on your list of things to do. 🙂

  27. Karen says:

    Hi Fie,

    🙁 I worry about that, too. All you can do is nag your parents to take care of themselves. My nagging-of-the-moment is exercise. My mom exercises, but my dad doesn’t. I bug him every time I see him to do stuff like walk the dog more, etc.

  28. Karen says:

    Hi Music_Is_Freedom,

    It’s amazing isn’t it? I really wish I could’ve gotten more crisp and detailed pics of the couture gowns. The lighting was *really* dark in that room so I couldn’t get a decent shot.

  29. Karen says:

    Hi Joseph,

    Yeah… or just pretend you don’t speak English. That has limited wear time, though.

    I ended up sneaking into corners and waiting for the guards to have their back turned.

  30. Karen says:

    Hi Lexi,

    I really wanted to raid the entire bookshelf. 🙂 I would’ve taken more pictures of the books, but they wouldn’t let me (boo).

    It’s around ’till April so you have lots of time to go. If you go on the first Tuesday of the month admission is free, so you only have to pay the $10 YSL surcharge. It was my first time going to the de Young and I can’t wait to explore it more.

    Oh! I’ve never tried the YSL skin care line. I bet it’s fab… I can imagine the textures and scents of the creams!

  31. Karen says:

    Hi Miss QQ,

    You’re welcome. I wish I could’ve gotten better shots of the detailing, but hey, sometimes stuff just happens.

    The accessories that accompanied the clothes were also amazing, especially the jewelry.

    How was your day?

  32. Eva says:

    It’s a must see!! Saw it in Montreal Canada, he is TIMELESS. So many things i’d kill to have in my wardrobe right now… Perfection. Period.

  33. Karen says:

    Hi Eva,

    Me too. I’ll take all the cocktail dresses from the 60s. Oh, and while I’m at it, the Mondrian dress and the Belle du Jour dress would be nice, too.

  34. Fie says:


    My dad is the healthier one compared to my mom. She’s been battling diabetes since…forever. I can see that she’s tired and can’t walk for a lot. We have those escalator chairs for our stairs as we live in a double storey house. She’s been taking insulin everyday through self shots. I’m the youngest in the family (my mom gave birth to me when she was 49) so I don’t have the means to support yet.

    It pains me for not being at home. But I keep thinking that, when I get a good degree and upgrade my skills I will earn better money. To support my parents and myself.

  35. Theresa Mah says:

    OMG I KNEW IT! I thought I saw you there! HAHA 😀 I snapped like FOUR pictures. The old security in the second room was ultra nice and said I couldn’t take any, but the middle aged one in the first room yelled at me :[

  36. Karen says:

    Hi Theresa,

    Were you there in the afternoon? Aww, I wish you would’ve come up and said hi!

  37. Eva says:

    How about this beautifully simple strapless bal dress with a single black sash sweeping in front? ouch! timeless. Everything is beautiful. And perfect. The details, the beadings, the appliqués, (like this fishscale dress?, or the Van Gogh boleros?) Art. Really has its place in a museum.
    btw people were taking pics in MTL and no one yelled at them…hmm at least when i went. (and i went twice)

  38. Marisol says:

    I am definitely checking this out. Looks like a very cool exhibit. When I went to Chicago a few years back, I went to the Field Museum and saw the Jacqueline Kennedy: The White House Years: Style Beyond Wardrobe exhibit. Oh my! It was simply amazing!

  39. Theresa Mah says:

    YEAP! I was there in the afternoon. I bought their hot pink tux sketch tshirt from the gift shop 😀

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