YSL Symposium in San Francisco

This past weekend I found myself attending a sold out symposium at the de Young Museum on the late designer Yves Saint Laurent. The rain didn’t seem to deter a soul from attending the lectures by the illustrious speakers. These included YSL’s long time partner, Pierre Bergé, Hamish Bowles (editor-at-large of American Vogue) and Florence Muller (one of the exhibitions curators), as well as, Fashion historian Farid Chenoune. An added bonus was that several of YSLs entourage was present in the front row of Koret auditorium (including Betty Catroux).

Betty is to the right of YSL

Betty is to the right of YSL

Some of the highlights for me included much of Farid Chenoune’s discussion of the imact and magic of Le Smoking (don’t tell anyone, but his presentation was my favorite), Hamish Bowles not only gave a wonderful overview of YSL’s design career, but also provided information about his own private collection of YSLs (he has about 20 pieces of YSL for Dior, and 60 pieces of YSL Couture). I also loved that Pierre Bergé was wearing an Obama pin throughout the day’s activities.

The opportunity to ask the illustrious panelists questions was not lost on this primarily non-academic crowd. One of the best was when an audience-member asked Hamish to describe a favorite piece from his own collection. His answer was an amazing sounding watteau-backed YSL for Dior from the Trapeze collection.

Farid Chenoune’s discussion of Le Smoking was informed, creative, and brought up issues I had never considered before: How Le Smoking was an evening ensemble in direct opposition to Chanel’s Little Black dress, the popular scandal of being nude under the tuxedo, and the interplay of gender roles as played out in the cut and fit of the ensemble. I could go on and on and on about this paper. Chenoune’s turns of phrase were inspiring, including: “The male/female issue is the eye of the hurricane that is fashion.”

Chenoune’s use of the fairytale metaphor was jaw dropping. He proposed that in the fashion fairy tale, the woman is a princess in the ballgown, and the man is a knight in black armour, sent to rescue her. But YSL turned that on its head, giving the armour instead to the princess, in effect, giving her the power. I could listen to this man all day. Unfortunately, the slim volume in the bookstore was well outside my price range – $80 (!!). I wasn’t able to find it anywhere online, but if anyone sees Yves Saint Laurent: Smoking Forever, please let me know – the holidays are just around the corner.

It is Le Smoking, but it is also NOT Le Smoking.

It is Le Smoking, but it is also NOT Le Smoking.

One of the biggest revaluations, however, was that the iconic photo that is always used to depict Le Smoking is not actually of one of the Tuxedo ensembles. It is merely one of YSLs pants suits for women. I learned so much on this day, its hard to fathom.

I hope to have a more detailed symposium review in an upcoming issue of the Costume Society of America’s Western Region newsletter. For information on joining the Costume Society of America, please contact me or visit: Costume Society of America. For some really wonderful photos of the exhibition (as mounted at the de young) take a quick peek at the coverage at SFLuxe by Damion Matthews. For the San Francisco Chronicle’s coverage of the press gala, read this.

As an aside, I also had the opportunity to interview the collection manager for the Museum at FIDM for upcoming posts on Worn Through. Watch this space for more information on their collection and upcoming events over the coming weeks.

Until next time,



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