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Yves Saint Laurent

Fashion Designer

Yves Saint Laurent was one of the most celebrated fashion designers of the era. He was born in Algeria in 1936. From a young age he suffered from nerves, exasperated by the beatings he endured from other boys at school for his homosexual leanings. He enjoyed making paper dolls, painting and sketching designs for dresses for his mother and sisters. At seventeen, Saint Laurent moved to Paris to study fashion design. There, his sketches brought him to the attention of Christian Dior, who employed him as his assistant and became his mentor.

Following Dior’s death in 1957, Saint Laurent took over as head designer at Dior. His first collection was called the ‘Trapeze line’ and increased Dior's sales substantially. That same year he met his future business partner and boyfriend, Pierre Bergé at a party.

In 1960 the French Army called up Saint Laurent to fight in the Algerian War. He was subjected to homophobic abuse and hazing by the other soldiers. Within twenty days he had suffered a nervous breakdown. Bergé, who had by that time fallen head over heels in love with Saint Laurent, came to his rescue. He ensured Saint Laurent was discharged and nursed him back to health. However, Saint Laurent soon discovered that he had been replaced as head designer at Dior. He successfully sued for breach of contract. With the settlement money, Saint Laurent and Bergé established the new fashion house, Yves Saint Laurent. Their romantic relationship lasted for many years and they shared several houses and apartments.

During the 1960s and 1970s, the firm drew on the left-bank Parisian style and popularised the beatnik look. YSL also created clothes that celebrated androgyny and drew on LGBT style. This included creating the iconic ‘Le Smoking’ tuxedo suit for women and the famous safari suits for both men and women. In 1966, Saint Laurent opened the first of his ready-to-wear, Rive Gauche boutiques in an attempt to democratise high fashion.

Prior to his death from brain cancer in 2008, Saint Laurent and Bergé were joined in a same-sex civil union known as a Pacte civil de solidarité (PACS) .Though Saint Laurent did not publicly comment on his homosexuality until 1991, he never concealed his sexuality or his relationship with Bergé. The couple were prominent supporters of several gay rights and AIDS activist groups such as Act-Up and Sidaction. They also supported François Mitterrand’s election campaign, when he became President in 1981. His government removed discriminatory laws against homosexuals from the French penal code.
  • Gender
    Male
  • Relationship
    Artist/maker
  • Nationality
    French
  • Born
    1936-08-01
  • Place of birth
    Africa: Northern Africa: Algeria: Oran
  • Died
    2008-06-01
  • Place of death
    Europe: Western Europe: France: Paris
  • Cause of death
    Brain Cancer
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