Declaring himself "the last couturier", it is almost indisputable that Yves Saint Laurent is the designer responsible for re-inventing women's fashion in the second half of the 20th century.
Born in Algeria in 1936, Saint-Laurent grew up in a villa in the Mediterranean, before moving to Paris at the age of 18 to attend fashion school. Whilst attending the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture, his designs were noticed by Michel De Brunhoff, then-editor of French Vogue, who introduced Saint-Laurent to prolific designer Christian Dior. At just 21-years old, Saint-Laurent became Dior's successor.
A few years later, Saint-Laurent and his partner Pierre Bergé founded the label bearing his name and although their personal relationship was to end, their professional relationship endured until Saint-Laurent's death in 2008.
Saint-Laurent's style of fashion design involved devising a rough concept, arranging for a basic garment to be sewn, and then creating what would become the final masterpiece on the model herself. Rather than looking directly at the models wearing his pieces, he would observe their reflections in a mirror as they were walking; providing a perspective he considered more "real" than any other way to view his creations.
Describing fashion as a form of "art", he placed a greater emphasis on style explaining:
"They are rare those who imposed their style while fashion makers are so numerous."
Although his designs re-ignited people's passions for couture, he is also the first couturier to have released a full prêt-à-porter (ready-to-wear) line, democratising fashion; taking luxury to the streets.
During the 1960s and 70s, the man aptly branded a fashion genius popularised trends such as the beatnik look, safari jackets, tight pants, tuxedo suits for women, the Le Smoking suit, thigh high boots and the mainstreaming of silhouettes from the 1920s, 30s & 40s. He was obsessed with beatnik culture and fascinated by the concept of androgyny (i.e. blurring of the male and female appearance).
To learn more about Saint-Laurent both as a person and designed, I purchased a DVD collection from Amazon.com consisting of two documentaries, Yves Saint Laurent: His Life and Times and Yves Saint Laurent: 5 Avenue Marceau. The first is essentially a biography of his life, whilst the latter provides a behind-the-scenes insight into the creation of his final Spring collection.
I highly recommend the DVD collection to any budding fashion designer or admirer of Saint-Laurent's eponymous label.