Yves Saint Laurent, generally agreed to be one of the greatest couturiers of the 20th century, died in 2008, but his last couture show was in 2002, a restrospective of his nearly 50 year career. Now his partner Pierre Bergé has put together for the museum-going public at the Petit Palais a retrospective of YSL's work and how it influenced and was influenced by the events of his lifetime, including feminism, ethnic awareness, and the rise of youth culture.
An hourlong wait in the chilly sunshine was rewarded with an exhibition that included several hundred examples of Saint Laurent's work, from his early trapeze designs for Dior, which made him a star at the age of 20, to the many, many versions of 'le smoking', the tuxedo for women which came to be seen as another basic wardrobe piece like 'little black dress', to the extraordinarily elaborate embroidery of the 'art' pieces he designed as homages to favorite painters. You haven't lived until you've seen Van Gogh's irises in sequins that took 600 hours to apply.
The audioguide to the exhibition is definitely a must-have, as otherwise one would miss the historical significance of much of the show. He was the first couturier to make pants a staple in women's wardrobes, the first to bring Russian, Indian and African motifs to haute couture, the first or at least the most imfluential to do a lot of things we take for granted. And the opportunity to see the fabrics and details and cuts up close is not to be missed for anyone who thinks great design can extend even to the clothes we wear.