Thursday, June 14, 2012

Yves Saint Laurent in Denver

The Yves Saint Laurent Retrospective is the featured attraction on our visit to the Denver Art Museum.  This show has also been exhibited in Paris and Madrid – Denver is its only US stop. Lucky Denver!
Courtesy of the Denver Art Musuem
I’m really not much of a fashionista, but as someone who’s worked with textiles and embellishments, I appreciate a beautiful, well-made garment. Saint Laurent knew how to do that. Many of the garments on display are not only beautiful, but still feel fresh and contemporary. As I work my way through the exhibit I happily ID garments that I’d gladly wear to the office as is or with just a minor tweak. This is particularly true of the suits.
photo from jezebel
The exhibit is enlightening (I’ve never really given much thought to the role of fashion in social and political change), beautiful . . . and a little exhausting. Mostly displayed in dark galleries like precious jewels, the parade of garments seems almost endless. It isn’t structured to allow for much contemplation and it is a lot to absorb.
Installation view of Yves Saint Laurent: The Retrospective at the Denver Art Museum. 
Photo by Jeff Wells; courtesy Denver Art Museum.
As the exhibit opens, the early Dior pieces still have that 50s polish that that makes everyone look just a little more refined. Then there is the “Gender Revolution” section and fashion as politics. It’s a time that is hard for me to imagine, when wearing a pant suit was a political statement. . . . well, maybe not so hard to imagine, given all the attention given to Hillary Clinton’s pant suits when she was running for office. How women dress is still political, even in the United States, let alone other parts of the world.

It seems, however, as if the reaction to the 1971 collection  - which harkened back to the style of WWII - was just as political, at least in Europe.

As an American, it is inconceivable that this collection was described at the time as “hideous” and vilified for its references to the war years. I’ve spent much of my life seeing this same time period (and its style) glorified. But then, most of my country only experienced the war from a distance and those years quickly moved into the realm of hazy nostalgia as the country got down to the business of making money and having babies. My attraction to these garments could simply be due to too much exposure to the big bands of the Swing era. But I like them.
photo from AspenPeak
 I wonder how this collection is viewed today in Europe. It was after all, only slightly ahead of its time.

There is also a fascinating “Imaginary Journeys” section that features incredibly detailed (but not always very wearable, at least in these runway versions) outfits based on the traditional dress of a variety of “exotic” places, including India, Africa, and Morocco. (Saint Laurent lived in Morocco for years and the rich colors seem to have spoken to him.)
photo from jezebel
There is also a fascinating display that includes garments made for various celebrities (including Lauren Bacall and the Duchess of Windsor) with video images of those celebrities. It makes the garments more understandable – some of them seem odd or over-the-top, like they could have been designed only for the runway, but when I actually see those outfits on the movie star or European royal or society lady for whom they were designed, they all make more sense. After all, a larger-than-life personality would require clothing to match. Of course, the subtle but exquisitely beaded jacket made for Bacall is as elegant and understated as she is. It is stylish and beautiful in and of itself.

Then there is a section with Saint Laurent’s art-inspired designs, including the Iris Jacket.   
Yves Saint Laurent, Short evening ensemble, Tribute to Vincent Van Gogh, haute couture collection, Spring-Summer 1988. Jacket embroidered with sequins and pearls; green crepe blouse; purple crepe skirt. © Fondation Pierre Berg√©-Yves Saint Laurent, Paris / Photo A. Guirkinger.

I want one. Seriously.

The “Iconic Tuxedo” section (with almost 50 different versions of women’s tuxedo-style suites, including some with shorts), is one theme with seemingly infinite variations, repeated, over and over in a semi dark room - fashion transformed into pure art.
Installation view of Yves Saint Laurent: The Retrospective at the Denver Art Museum. 
Photo by Jeff Wells; courtesy Denver Art Museum.
This is followed by a section on fabric selection and finishes, again, with one theme repeated over and over, this time in bold color.

The show ends with a parade of 40 or more elegant, glowing evening gowns in beautiful rich colors.
Installation view of Yves Saint Laurent: The Retrospective at the Denver Art Museum. 
Photo by Jeff Wells; courtesy Denver Art Museum.
I want go back through and take in the whole exhibit once again, seeing it all in context this time, taking in its full scope in a way I couldn’t going through it for the first time.

My husband (who went through the whole show with me and actually found it sort of interesting) says we are done.

My timed ticket probably wouldn’t allow me another run-through anyway.


In the US, the Yves Saint Laurent Retrospective will only be shown in Denver and only through July 8 of this year.

I received a complimentary entrance to the exhibit as a registrant for the TBEX new media conference, but all opinions here are strictly my own.

Photography is not allowed in the exhibit, but there are some beautiful photos on Design Sponge.     (Unfortunately, the museum’s website doesn’t have many images.)

The Washington Post’s She the People blog identifies Yves Saint Laurent’s 5 Lessons for Pols, proving that some lessons transcend fashion. (This could as easily be titled Yves Saint Laurent’s 5 Lessons for Business.)

Next post: Contrasting Architectural Eras in Denver 
Previous post: Denver Art Museum


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