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Perfecting Our Style for the YSL Exhibit at the Seattle Art Museum

Yves Saint Laurent

We have several takeaways from the several times (so far) we have visited the exhibit Yves Saint Laurent: The Perfection of Style at the Seattle Art Museum (on through January 8):

1. How truly daring Yves (if we may call him that so as not to confuse the man with the house) was: he promoted diversity on the runway long before it was de rigueur to do so; he made gender bending extremely fashionable, both through iconic designs like his Le Smoking suit and his cultivation of his own dashing feminine qualities (captured in Jeanloup Sieff’s famous nude photo of the designer in the ’70s on display at SAM); he reinvented and restored his career and himself after early setbacks and recurring bouts with depression and addiction.

2. How much our current fashion climate relies on ground he cultivated: ready-to-wear and diffusion lines, street-level boutiques, streetwear trends applied to couture, his collaborations with It girls and celebrities, his ability to read the zeitgeist and design a uniform for it.

3. How much better we should dress the next time we decide to pay homage to one of the 20th century’s most brilliant designers. Honestly, wearing jeans, a sweater and boots to this exhibit felt like sinning while approaching the altar to receive communion.

Yves Saint Laurent archives

As we’ve thought more about Yves’s (we’re on a first name basis by now, surely) decadent, decades-defining career and life, we’ve also thought how fun it would have been to be one of the fabulous women (a Betty Catroux, a Loulou de la Falaise, a—dare we dream—Catherine Deneuve) in his orbit, one whom he dressed like he did his childhood paper dolls. And if so, what would he have selected for us? Here are our best guesses among modern YSL pieces, though no doubt Yves would have had something surprising up his impeccable sleeve.

Naturally we’d be lucky to wear any of the more than 100 designs presented in the exhibit at the SAM. The couture constructions span YSL’s 44-year career, and every one seems to hint at a history while still remaining so wearable and elegant today.

Yves Saint Laurent

But here are modern pieces from the new YSL house that are destined to become iconic:

Black Opium

Yves Saint Laurent, Black Opium fragrance

When Yves Saint Laurent launched Opium, his signature fragrance, in 1977 it began what the press quickly dubbed the “Opium Wars.” Politicians and concerned citizens felt that the designer was glamorizing drugs at a time when the U.S. government was particularly involved in combating their growing use. The designer’s provocative branding clearly won out, as the name survives in current iterations of the scent. Take it from us, it’s easy to become addicted to Black Opium, the latest eau de parfum from the house.

A tuxedo jacket

YSL tuxedo jacket

An obvious sartorial tribute to Yves must include a version of his Le Smoking. The feminized tuxedo jacket is his most recognizable contribution to modern fashion—and a necessity for any well-turned-out wardrobe.

Suede moto leggings

YSL leggings

Yves was one of the first designers to really understand how modern women wanted to dress. His liberation of their style hinged largely on identifying that women wanted to wear pants, both casually and formally, but not necessarily of the same cut and fabrication as men’s trousers. “My small job as a couturier,” he said, “is to make clothes that reflect our times. I’m convinced women want to wear pants.” This assertion was alarming in 1968. These lambskin suede moto leggings recall the rebellious streak that was a through line of the designer’s work while also incorporating a fabric he frequently worked with into a modern cut.

YSL monogram crossbody

YSL purse

After his tumultuous departure from Dior and mandatory induction into the French military, Yves Saint Laurent struggled personally and emotionally for a spell, before finding the strength in the support of his partner Pierre Bergé to launch his independent line. From 1961 on, the YSL logo has remained largely unchanged. It was designed by Adolphe Mouron Cassandre, a commercial poster artist, at the onset of the fashion house and has remained one of the most graceful and iconic signatures in the history of fashion. What better place to wear it like a badge while viewing the designer’s dresses than on a monogram crossbody bag?

SHOP: Saint Laurent

Yves Saint Laurent

You can view the exhibit, on now through January 8, 2017, at the Seattle Art Museum.

—Britt Burritt