Pierre Bergé’s passing signals an end of an era for the Saint Laurent brand. As a confounder of the company along with Yves Saint Laurent, Bergé has played an instrumental role for the company since its conception. In light of his passing, we believe it is important to look back at the legacies that the two have left behind.
Today, Saint Laurent is synonymous with the image of rebellious youth. This is largely due in part to the creative direction of Hedi Slimane, who took over the fashion house from 2012 to 2016. By changing the company’s official name to “Saint Laurent”, thereby dropping “Yves”, he expressed his intention to reformulate the brand into an edgier, and younger, version of itself. This was made rapidly clear through his first collection that featured rock ’n’ roll aesthetics and slim tailoring, reminiscent of his work at Dior Homme. What has remained the same throughout the company’s 56-year-old history, however, is its continued fight for gender equality and belief in self-expression. Slimane has always been an advocate of gender fluidity in fashion, meaning that menswear and womenswear should not be distinguished. He further reinforced the idea that people should wear whatever they want. But it was arguably Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé who saw fashion as an androgynous entity.
In contemporary fashion history, Yves Saint Laurent stands out as a significant figure who successfully merged his artistic endeavours with political agenda. With his business partner and ex-lover Bergé, Saint Laurent released a classic tuxedo suit for women, a revolutionary concept at the time and it still is. The intention was by designing traditionally men’s clothes into a slimmer silhouette to fit the female anatomy, Yves and Pierre wanted to empower women by placing them head-to-head against their male counterparts. The release of this suit coincided with the ascendency of second-wave feminism, which rocked the 1960s, and played an important part in pushing the movement forward.
In addition to gender equality, Bergé and Saint Laurent were also early champions of ethnic diversity in fashion. They gave opportunities to non-white models, which was a highly unthinkable move at the time. They famously hired black models like Rebecca Ayoko and Katoucha Niane, which was met with a lot of controversy. Nonetheless, the pair was determined in their fight against racism in the fashion industry, and their impact is clear for everyone to see in the contemporary fashion scene.
The impact that the founders of Saint Laurent have had on the fashion industry is sizable and long-standing. Leave us your comments and let us know how you feel.
Words: Joonsoo Yi
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