Immerse yourself in the heady history of Yves Saint Laurent in this glorious new book

The Impossible Collection is a celebratory tribute to the lasting legacy of one of fashion’s most iconic figures

Yves Saint Laurent is undoubtedly one of the 20th Century’s most influential couturiers; often cited as the founding figure for modernity in fashion, his eponymous house has been the epitome of Parisian chic for five decades and counting. Doing justice to such a titan in a book was never going to be easy but Yves Saint Laurent: The Impossible Collection, the latest addition to Assouline’s exclusive Ultimate Collection of handcrafted volumes, doesn’t disappoint.

Suit, Haute Couture, Spring 1962Pin
Suit, Haute Couture, Spring 1962.His groundbreaking style was illustrated by this polished, sharply constructed white silk tussor suit presented in his couture salon at 30 bis, rue Spontini in the 16th arrondissement in Paris. © Hearst Magazine

Charting Saint Laurent’s 40-year oeuvre, from his debut collection in 1962 right through to his final couture presentation upon his retirement in 2002, the book’s author, esteemed fashion journalist and Saint Laurent expert Laurence Benaïm, has curated 100 of the designer’s most iconic signature pieces. The result is a glossy – and hefty, at 9.5kg – homage to the man who changed the face of fashion forever.

After getting his big break assisting Christian Dior, Saint Laurent founded his own label in 1961. Tapping into the sexual revolution that was rumbling around him, his singular aim was to encapsulate female empowerment and confidence through his designs, transforming haute couture for a new era of youthful, strong, independent women.

To serve women’s bodies, their gestures, their attitude, their lives. I wanted to be part of the women’s liberation movement of the past century,” Saint Laurent once said. “I have always believed that fashion was not only to make women more beautiful, but also to give them confidence.”

“Chanel freed women, and I empowered them”
Yves Saint Laurent
White Tulle Wedding DressPin
White Tulle Wedding Dress, Haute Couture, Spring 1983. Mounia floated rather than walked down the runway in this wedding gown, which required no less than forty meters of white Hurel tulle, sixteen meters of stiff tulle, and three meters each of white Marescot lace and Buche georgette. And yet the dress appears weightless, as if the fabric had been gently tamed by the magical seamstresses in the atelier flou headed by Madame Esther, like Proust’s “everlasting feelings of longing for the past” becoming a promise of happiness. © Francois-Marie Banier

And so he created feminine versions of masculine styles, giving us such fabled pieces as the pinstriped pantsuit, the Saharienne khaki safari jacket and Le Smoking, his black tailored tuxedo (at a time when it was still controversial for women to wear trousers in public). As Saint Laurent once said himself: “Chanel offered women freedom, and I empowered them”.

The designer broke fashion rule after fashion rule, defying taboos and standing up for his beliefs. He was a trailblazer in blurring the boundary between art and couture with his Mondrian collection in 1965; he incorporated sheer organza blouses and transparent gowns into his own collections, never before done; while in the 70s, he launched the seductive, evocatively-named Opium perfume, sparking immediate controversy – though it was Saint Laurent who had the last laugh, with stores selling out within hours of launch.

Immerse Yourself In The Heady History Of Yves Saint Laurent In This Glorious New BookPin
Camel Hair Overcoat, Haute Couture, Autumn 1988. Just as Chanel reworked tweeds, Saint Laurent returned each season to the masculine fabrics he adored, including cashmere and grain de poudre. The French had discovered camel hair after the conquest of Algeria, and the designer further popularized the fabric by associating it with images of Hollywood stars such as Humphrey Bogart, Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich. He had always been a fan of American cinema, particularly Casablanca and Notorious, among other popular films he had discovered growing up in Oran. © Guy Marineau
“I created the wardrobe of the contemporary woman; I took part in the transformation of my era”
Yves Saint Laurent
Model Alek Wek Wearing The Mondrian DressPin
Model Alek Wek wearing the Mondrian dress, haute couture, Autumn 1965. © Christoph Sillem

He was also one of the first couturiers to draw inspiration from street clothing, and to popularise the ready-to-wear concept for a wider clientele, opening his Rive Gauche boutique selling off-the-peg in 1966. “I want to give haute couture a kind of wink, a sense of humor – to inject the sense of freedom one sees in the street into high fashion; to give couture the same provocative and arrogant look as punk – but, of course, with luxury and dignity and style,” he opined.

Page upon page of
Yves Saint Laurent: The Impossible Collection, which is bound in a handmade silk clamshell case and comes with a pair of complementary white gloves, is filled with the designer’s seminal fashion moments, from tailored pantsuits and his trademark flowing ‘coup de crayon’ draped gowns to the designer’s remarkable Ballets Russes collection, tributes to Picasso, Matisse and van Gogh, and his lavish use of velvet, feathers, leopard print and jewel tones.

As author Laurence Benaïm writes: “Saint Laurent’s body of work is an endless fantasy, a star-filled sky illuminated by a full moon or a midnight sun. Each design reflects its time period, and yet all his creations are modern and timeless.”

If ever there was a book that was going to provide some much-needed escapism, inspiration and aesthetic joy during lockdown, this is it. 

Odel Amalia Vairelli Wearing Yves Saint Laurent DressPin
Model Amalia Vairelli wearing the dress in Yves Saint Laurent’s final haute couture presentation, January 2002. © Guy Marineau
Immerse Yourself In The Heady History Of Yves Saint Laurent In This Glorious New BookPin

Yves Saint Laurent: The Impossible Collection
(Assouline, £695)

Main image: Pierre Bergé, Loulou de la Falaise, Yves Saint Laurent and Marina Schiano at the one-year anniversary party of the famous Paris nightclub Le Palace, April 1979. 
© Fairchild Archive/Penske Media/Shutterstock
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