France, 1962: Algiers becomes independent, the SS France begins its maiden voyage, François-Henri Pinault (Pinault Collection) is born, the Jules and Jim is released, and on January 29and , Yves Saint-Laurent, twenty-six, presents his first Haute Couture Collection. In honor of this event which launched one of the world’s greatest designers, six Parisian museums are simultaneously exhibiting YSL couture fashions woven into their permanent collections. With Yves Saint Laurent at the Museums these six museums, among the most important in the world, recognize that YSL’s haute couture is, in fact, high art. “When I’m working, I’m constantly thinking about art and painting,” Saint-Laurent is said to have said.
One of the things Saint-Laurent loved most about Paris was its art museums. He once said: “my goal was to weave relationships between painting and clothing”. Today, these same museums, whose galleries Saint Laurent wandered for inspiration, pursue this goal by curating fashion pieces that perfectly complement his designs with the museums’ own art collections. The result is Yves Saint Laurent To the Museums, a group of exhibitions in six museums that runs until May 15, 2022.
Overall, the participating museums did a masterful job of associating YSL modes with major works of art, some simply evoking the modes, others serving as direct inspiration. A surprising number of pieces by Saint-Laurent openly pay homage to painters housed in museums, notably those exhibited at the Center Pompidou and Musstarand Modern Art. We’re really starting to understand in a palpable way which artists occupied his place the most in his psyche, and as Saint-Laurent said, “I think I found [my aesthetic ghosts] with Mondrian, Picasso and Matisse.
A truism I learned from living in Manhattan, and, and now Paris, is that we rarely take full advantage of the cultural offerings available to us. I am embarrassed to admit that two years into my life in Paris, I had never visited any of the museums participating in the YSL exhibition. It was therefore the perfect opportunity to play cultural catch-up. For me, YSL Aux Musées was like a golden thread that I followed, leading me through the galleries to rediscover exquisite museums and see art in a new light. Talking to people on my tour, I found a number of similarly motivated people.
Some of the participating museums have a rewarding number of YSL fashion pieces, while others are disappointing. Since there is no all-inclusive pass, for those planning to visit in person, rather than approaching this as the YSL show as a museum “visit”, I suggest picking the museums that interest you the more to visit anyway, and think of the YSL part as a springboard to appreciate art, and its fashions, in a new light. Here is a summary of the YSL collection of each participating museum:
To me, it looked like the most important YSL couture exhibition among the participating museums. On the one hand, it was spread over two floors and many galleries. Most of the sewing pieces selected had clear and direct links to the surrounding artwork. For example, Picasso’s “Harlequin and Woman with a Necklace” (1917) is mounted right next to YSL’s “Robe Hommage à Pablo Picasso” (1979) and Piet Mondrian’s “Composition in Red, Blue and White” (1937). ). , suspended by YSL’s “Tribute to Piet Mondrian” (1965). Lizzie and Bob, in town from London for the day, summed it up best: “That kind of puts fashion in context, doesn’t it?”
Julien, a young French fashionista wearing a Karl Lagerfeld tote bag, told me he had come on purpose for YSL and was planning to visit the other five participating museums. I asked him if the exhibition encouraged him to wander around and also discover the other works? “I’m from Paris, I know them all, but it gives me the opportunity to rediscover the works from here,” he shared.
The room with the most indirect connection to the accompanying artwork, and the most sensory-captivating pairing, is home to YSL’s three vivid long dresses with polka dots, cubes and pleats. Colored light filters onto these dresses through colored plastic columns up to the ceiling, on the other side of which is a room-sized op art installation with colored surfaces that complement the YSL dresses.
a room-sized Op Art installation whose colorful surfaces complement YSL dresses.
The pleated orange dress with striking swirls of color facing Robert Delaunay’s Cochon Carousel (1922), a breathtaking painting with luminous colored spheres surrounding the canvas like spinning planets got my vote for the most cool at the Center Pompidou. Sophie, from Strasbourg, and her friend found the whole thing exhilarating, “in each room there is such an atmosphere, it is marvelously matched”.
Ironically, the largest museum in the world has one of the smallest YSL fashion gatherings among the six exhibits. But as Adelle, (who is studying luxury management in Rome), and her mother, who came especially for the YSL show, pointed out, “it’s a smaller exhibition than we expected, but the eight pieces are quality, and that’s what counts. ”
That of the Louvre Apollo Gallery, where YSL fashions are discreetly displayed, is an ornately gilded room of display cases filled with 18th century jeweled crowns, crystal tableware all fit for a king (which they actually were) – a fitting forum for dazzling eight beaded and jewel encrusted YSL jackets ( worthy of Michael Jackson) tops and jewels. A jeweled heart, a talisman of Saint-Laurent, worn by a model at each show, rubs shoulders with period museum pieces through the centuries, here in the heart of the Louvre.
MODERN ART MUSEUM OF PARIS
I had one of the greatest “wow” moments in the Salle Matisse (Matisse Hall). A daring juxtaposition of a solitary YSL piece, a smock-like dress with rounded shoulders and a cinched waist in blue-grey and black, against the huge (8.5 by almost 13 feet) “La Danse” from Matisse from 1931 – the only painting to occupy the large room.
In a gallery on the ground floor, I admired a pair of YSL trouser suits (one beige, one black) placed in the middle of an extraordinary collection of art-deco furniture, with the mural by Jean Durrand, ” Sports” (1935), which had been hung in the smoking room of the SS Normandy, as a backdrop. I struck up a conversation with Jeannine and Dominique, teachers who did not come on purpose for the YSL, but who share the opinion that “these two costumes would have suited elegant ladies surrounded by this furniture in their day” .
The only YSL display here features women’s black tuxedos alongside cream-colored Belle Epoque-inspired dresses that were created for Baroness Rothschild and Jane Birkin to wear at the 1971 Proust Ball, in honor of the great work of the famous author, In Search of Lost Time. The timeless tableau of mannequins is aptly posed in front of the iconic Orsay clock, with the rooftops of Paris visible between the Roman numerals.
The other room linked to YSL at the Orsay contains a small collection of his sketches for a revival of Jean Cocteau’s play, The two-headed eagle. I was speechless in awe (and I’m not saying this metaphorically) when I realized that the path to the sketches had led me through galleries 71 and 72 which house dozens of works by most iconic impressionist art in the world. Van Gogh’s “Starry Night”, Van Gogh’s “Bedroom in Arles” and his “Portrait of the Artist”; Luncheon on the Grass by Monet; and Renoirs too, to name a few. Thanks to the golden thread of YSL exhibitions, I witnessed the greatest successes of Impressionism.
PICASSO-PARIS NATIONAL MUSEUM
Although this is a must-see modern art museum, with only two YSL pieces, it is not recommended if your goal is to enjoy as much YSL couture as possible. If you are in Paris for less than a week, I recommend leaving this gem for another trip.
YVES SAINT LAURENT MUSEUM PARIS
Showcasing YSL’s design sketches, cut-outs, shapes, videos and his personal studio-study (staged as if he had just been busy this morning), this is the perfect preamble to visit the exhibitions of other museums. Here, you’ll immerse yourself in the creative process and understand how the stunning fashions exhibited in the other five museums came to be.
All photos courtesy of the author.
Philip Ruskin is an external lecturer (ESSEC Bus. School), consultant (food and travel marketing), writer, drummer and regular contributor to Frenchly. He loves cycling in his adopted city, Paris. Find it here on Instagram.