The year is 1960. We are in Val-de-Grâce, a French military hospital in Paris. A heavily sedated young man has just undergone electroshock therapy for a nervous breakdown. He is a thin, shy, bespectacled and rather gentle looking lad - an alluring prey for his fellow conscripts. Hazing - in the form of verbal assault, bullying, physical injury or humiliation can be found in any army, and in extreme cases, it even leads to death. The young man did not die but barely 20 days into his forced military service, he had already checked himself into hospital, suffering from hazing stress.
And now here he is.
That young man's name is Yves Saint Laurent. He is 24 years old.
Just a few years ago, at the age of 21, he had been chosen by the defunct Christian Dior to be head designer for the House of Dior. At 22, his "trapeze" dress collection was credited to have saved the House from financial downfall and his name had spread internationally.
And now here he is, enclosed in a grim hospital, living a nightmare that he will later credit as being the origin of his lifelong mental disorders and his drug addiction.
What has gone wrong?
He remembers what launched the nightmare. To have it all and to have lost it, almost overnight. This is what he faces now. This is the torment he endures. The dream has ended. Because the vultures of the fashion world are rarely at rest, and also because one cannot let such a young man as Saint Laurent dare as he pleases, especially when one wishes to protect the Maison Dior's conservative fashion traditions. Mais ou allons nous?
This is why, alarmed by the avant-garde youth, Marcel Broussac, owner of the Maison Dior, has, almost overnight, toppled the conscripted Yves Saint Laurent from his reign as head Dior designer and 'fired' him.
And now, here he is. He's learned of his dismissal.
Shock-induced seizures the doctors say (or do not say), can make you forget.
Temporary amnesia... But will he forget this?
Yves Saint Laurent in his late teens with Salvador Dali
Photo by Alecio de Andrade
Now there's a drug for you. It's a wondrous souvenir. Of the only drug one ever needs...
As he lay in hospital, other images might have haunted him. Images of his past.
Like this one:
Was he afraid then? He was 17. He had designed a cocktail dress for a fashion drawing competition in Paris and won first prize. He had even beaten the young German student, Karl Lagerfield.
Everything - from his discovery by Michel de Brunhoff, editor-in-chief of the French edition of Vogue magazine, to his subsequent tutelage by Christian Dior whom he continually impressed - it all seemed like a dream come true.
And here he was.
The dream might have ended here. Saint Laurent had suffered a terrible fashion coup. Never mind the army hazing. When one is bullied at a young age at school for having homosexual tendencies, one has seen much already. But this is war. Not the Algerian War of Independence, mind you. It is war beween the House of Dior and Saint Laurent.
As Broussac would soon find out, one did not simply 'fire' the determined Yves Saint Laurent.
Especially when a man like entrepreneur Pierre Bergé had taken Saint Laurent under his wing and, one must add - to his bed.
The lucky star which once shone on the young designer when Christian Dior had chosen him to be his successor, still burned bright. After his eventual release from hospital, Saint Laurent successfully sued the House of Dior for breach of contract. Then, in 1961, blessed with funds from millionaire J. Mack Robinson, he and his romantic partner Pierre Bergé founded the fashion house that would revolutionize women's wardrobe. Yves Saint Laurent YSL was born. The rest is history.
Behind his slight almost ethereal appearance, was a man of will, passion and genius. He brought more than fashion to women, he gave them a celebration of style and pushed the limits of gendered clothing.
Born a Leo, on 1 August 1936, Yves Saint Laurent was certainly a creative force, a lover of the limelight with a colorful personality who worshiped the visual arts and worked extremely hard, often producing four collections a year. He was also competitive and within the fashion world, wanted to be what all Leos wish to be, The Best.
He was a huge influence to the likes of Tom Ford, Jean-Paul Gaultier and most designers cite him as a huge inspiration.
This year's Cesar ceremony on 20th February will see two biopics about Yves Saint Laurent compete for various awards. There is Bertrand Bonello's Saint Laurent which has garnered 10 nominations and Jalil Lespert's Yves Saint Laurent which has 7 nominations. The two leads, Gaspart Ulliel and Pierre Niney will vie for Best Actor. Australians will have a chance to catch Yves Saint Laurent in the Alliance Francaise French Film Festival in March.
Poster for Jalil Lespert's Yves Saint Laurent
starring Pierre Niney as the designer (I hope he wins!)
In 1999, YSL was taken over by Gucci, who asked Tom Ford to lead the prêt-a-porter collection while Yves Saint Laurent continued with haute couture designs.
In 2008, Yves Saint Laurent died of a brain tumor. He had long retired from the public eye.
Here are some facts about his amazing life and his enduring fashion legacy.
1960 - The leather jacket
Possibly empowered by the recognition of his own sexuality and wishing to liberate women (or project onto them), Yves Saint Laurent was the first designer to dress his runway models in a biker leather jacket.
1963 - The Cuissardes
Think Brigitte Bardot in leather thigh-high boots. Or even the later film, Barbarella, where Jane Fonda is squeezed in similarly tight cuissardes.
1963 saw Yves Saint Laurent's first invitation to women to cross gender roles. He is credited with bringing thigh-high leather boots to mainstream fashion. Actually he was not the first, but his famous crocodile-skin cuissardes are those that are most-remembered. Thigh-high boots - symbolic of pirates, conquistadores, adventurers and other men of action, carried a strong masculine image. To wear a pair of cuissardes is a woman's claim to instant virility. She becomes the agent of her own sexuality.
That's what Yves Saint Laurent was prepared to give women.
1966 - The Tuxedo
Highly influenced by noir films and the likes of Marlene Dietrich, Yves Saint Laurent gave women the tuxedo which blurred the lines between male and female yet again.
1967 - The Safari jacket and trouser suit
Yves Saint Laurent himself often donned the Safari jacket so it was only right that he be able to dress women in his image.
1968 - Transparent dress
A great favorite, where dark diaphanous fabric espouses lush black feathers and the sheerness reveals a woman in all her splendor. Yves Saint Laurent was a great fan of nudity.
He once said, "Over the years I have learned that what is important in a dress is the woman who is wearing it."
Drugs and Alcohol
Along with Dali and Andy Warhol, Yves Saint Laurent had no problems passing through the whimsical club entry requirements of Studio 54. He used cocaine frequently, suffered regular bouts of sadness and fits of temper and quite deserved the nickname of enfant terrible.
Much like a spoilt child, it was said that he was adept at manipulating others into forgiving his faults - so much so that nothing was ever refused him.
One should not refuse a Leo anything so it's only right...
In 1971, Yves Saint Laurent, then in his glorious mid-thirties, posed nude and became the face of the first YSL Eau de Toilette for men, Pour Homme. Photography is by Jeanloup Sieff.
Other men's perfumes followed, notably Jazz and Kouros. There was a time in my teens when I could not go out with Lebanese male friends without inhaling Jazz. My dad wore Kouros.
I'm ashamed to say I wore Dior's Farenheit.
At least it was a gender crossing...
Yves Saint Laurent is known as the first designer to introduce ethnic women into his runway.
Most of us would remember Iman, the beautiful Somali model who became known through him.
Yves Saint Laurent loved women of any nationality and of varying features. In his choice of models, he embraced departures from the standard beauty ideals of the time, preferring the exotic and often, the androgynous.
He dressed French celebrities Jeanne Moreau, Jean Marais, Isabelle Adjani and Arletty but it is his friendship with muse Catherine Deneuve for which he is most known.
Like French painter and orientalist, Horace Vernet, who returned again and again to Egypt and Syria, wrote about his travels and felt comfortable in ethnic clothing, Yves Saint Laurent had a bond with Morrocco.
He liked nothing better than lounging in an oriental garb and was an avid collector of art.
Yves Saint Laurent's love for the Oriental probably had its roots in his childhood. He was born and raised in Oran, Algeria and only arrived in Paris at the age of 17.
He had two villas in Marrakech and a property in Normandy, France.
One can see his love for art and oriental decor in these photos from Villa Oasis in Marrakech.
You will not find the designer's tomb at the reputed Père Lachaise cemetery. When Yves Saint Laurent passed away, his body was cremated and his ashes were scattered in the Majorelle Garden of Marrakech, Morocco.
Oh yes, Yves Saint Laurent had a French bulldog.
Instant bonus points.
In his later years, he spent much of his time with his beloved dog, Moujik.
He Looked amazing in glasses!!!
The dream lives on. Thank you Yves Saint Laurent for the style and for being you.