Tribute to Yves Saint Laurent

As a tribute to Yves Saint Laurent, I’ve decided to write my perspective about how he integrated jewelry in his couture fashion designs.  When I saw his collections displayed together at the De Young Museum in San Francisco I was overwhelmed by the beautiful fabrics and the fine workmanship.  I was most impressed with his incredible ability to create clothing which transformed the couture fashion world with so many diversified ensembles.  I especially appreciate his work because I started designing and sewing my clothes when I was twelve years old.  I made jewelry out of beads and ribbons to go with my outfits which eventually led me to designing jewelry.

Yves Saint Laurent was a true genius.  He imagined and created collections that were an art form but yet wearable and classic.  When he sketched a new design it was the total ensemble from head to toe, incorporating hats, jewelry and shoes.  The textures, colors and geometry of it all is executed in balanced perfection.  In the initial drawings he also drew jewelry that was unique to each outfit.  He even indicated what  metals, colors and size of ring or bracelets or earrings to be worn and the exact way they were to be worn. For example in this illustration he indicates that bracelets should be on both arms, one large round ring in white gold,  a necklace cascading of long flowers in white crystals, and a white flower clip on the front of the outfit.

I love his quote from 1965: “My essential rule is to elongate women, and above all, to make them look thinner.  After that, all that remains is to make their jewelry look bigger, and they are delighted!”

In 1966 he introduced the Tuxedo collection for women which did just that—make women look taller, thinner and sleek.  With jewelry as an accessory to set the tone of the pantsuit it can be worn  formal or casual as the wearer chooses.  In this Tuxedo sketch he has drawn in a large strand of graduated pearls which evokes both strength and feminity.  The pearls represent a classic look and not a trendy fashion statement.  This revolution in style with the Tuxedo suit  “gave women greater ease and confidence”, as he put it.

In contrast to the pant suit his evening dresses were over the top feminine and often frilly but yet composed and classic at the same time.  As shown in this 1971 Spring/Summer sketch of “Camouflage”  this glamarous evening dress flows entirely from the hip which he balances it with a large collared necklace including an oversized oval pendant and  rounded clip earrings.

One of my favorite collections was his “Tropical Collections” which he released in 1967.  Decorated with raffia embroidery and exotic wooden beads the jewelry becomes part of the dress, as shown in the sketches. The wooden beads which are sewn in the clothing is also worn as earrings, bracelets and neck collars. It’s an ingenius idea of having different parts of the body exposed and covering other parts with wood beads and raffia to create an exotic summer fashion collection.

From this quote in 1986 we can understand his appreciation of jewelry as part of the overall feel of creating an entire ensemble.
“Putting my imagination to work is valuable to me.  From “Woman with a Pearl  Necklace” by Vermeer, I imagined the dress she might have been wearing and I think it is one of the most beautiful dresses I ever created.”

Yves Saint Laurent was very inspired by artists.  As a young boy he painted in his lush garden in Tangiers.  He felt very passionately about works of art and collected some of the best throughout his life.  From the simplicity of Mondrian to the contrasting complexity of Picasso, Van Gough, Renoir and Matisse, he incorporated art into fashion successfully.

Cocktail Dress in Tribute to Piet Mondiran.  Fall/winter 1965:
In 1993 Yves Saint Laurent said  “Mondrian is purity and one can go no further in purity in painting.  This is a purity that joins with that of the Bauhaus.  The masterpiece of the twentieth century is a Mondrian.”  This is one of my favorite classic artistic couture collections.  With the colors and simple cut of this dress, it is such a classic that it is still being copied today forty years later.  The square clip black and white earring reflects the squares of the dress. The black linear lines enhance the squared colors in the dress while the white round in the earrings reflect the white spaces.  This is a perfect example of his quote about the beauty in simplicity and purity that Bauhaus and Mondrian delivered.

Yves Sanit Laurent had the ability in incorporate the opposite of Mondiran’s simplicity with the complexity of Picasso’s work into incredible ensembles.  As he states about his feelings of passion for Picasso’s work.  “Picasso is the genius of the pure state.  He is bursting with life and openness.  Picasso does not have purity.  He is the baroque, he runs several races, shoots with several bows, several arrows to his bow.”

Evening ensembles in tribute of Pablo Picasso fall/winter 1979
The enamel and rhinestone stud earrings reflect the squares in the harlequin squared skirt which is made in satin patchwork faille tones.  The frilliness of the blouse is  toned down by the hard edges of the squares and the opaque black enamel of the earrings.  At the same time the rhinestones add to the feminine quality of ensemble. This combination of softness and squares brings the outfit to a complete balance as if the earring is part of the fabric ensemble. And what is most amazing is that Picasso’s influence is imediately recognizable from the geometry, colors and overall design.

Evening ensemble in tribute to Georges Braque Spring/Summer 1988 “Dove”
The sketch is dramatic as is his final completion of the evening gown.  I love his drawing with the doves representimg the large bows and ties in the sweeps of the fabric and the drama of the sketched instrument to illustrate the bodice.  In place of  small earrings he adds the large rhinestone jeweled doves clipped on the ear in a complete form of flight.  This dove earring gives us the feeling and understanding of the large winged beaded collar, which is his way of relaying to us the dove image from his imagination. A large rock crystal bracelet on one arm in the monochromatic pink color brings the sparkle from the collar to the wrist.  The overall simplicity and complexity of the dress finished in shockingpink certainly makes a statement for couture evening wear. Drama, simplicity and complexity combined forms the genius of his work.

We are forever grateful for his gift to us.

Janet Deleuse

Images and quotes “Yves Saint Laurent Style Style Style”
Foundation Pierre-Berge, Abrams New York 2008
Please follow the link below to purchase this wonderful book:


About the Author