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© Gilles Tapie

RICHMOND, VA.- The fast-paced sights and sounds of the fashion runway have come to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts this spring with Yves Saint Laurent: The Perfection of Style, a multifaceted exhibition that opened May 6, and continues through August 27, 2017. Drawn from the unparalleled collection of the Paris-based Fondation Pierre Bergé – Yves Saint Laurent and other private collections, this breathtaking exhibition offers an intimate and comprehensive look at the lifetime achievement of Saint Laurent, one of history’s most radical and influential fashion designers. 

Featuring 100 examples of haute couture and ready-to-wear garments–some never shown publicly before–this exhibition reveals Saint Laurent’s artistic genius, as well as his working process, and the sources of his design inspiration. VMFA is the only East Coast venue for the exhibition, which has been organized by the Seattle Art Museum in partnership with the Paris-based Fondation. 

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Yves Saint Laurent with Victoire - Preparation of the first collection - december 1961 © Pierre Boulat courtesy Association Pierre & Alexandra Boulat

In addition to haute couture ensembles and ready-to-wear clothing, Yves Saint Laurent: The Perfection of Style includes costume jewelry and other accessories, photographs, drawings, films, and video from the Fondation’s vast archive. The exhibition traces the trajectory of Saint Laurent’s style as it developed throughout the course of his career, beginning in 1953 with the “Paper Doll Couture House” that he created as a teenager, which is being shown for the first time in the United States. Ensembles early in the exhibition focus on his formative years at the House of Dior, including an example of a short evening dress from his successful “Trapeze” collection, which marked his debut as a fashion designer when it was shown in Paris in 1958. The exhibition continues with his groundbreaking designs of the 1960s, which revolutionized the fashion industry. During this decade, Saint Laurent liberated modern women from the constraints of strict gender codes by creating clothing—such as the safari jacket, the pantsuit, and the tuxedo—which he borrowed from the male wardrobe. Visitors also will see how Saint Laurent was inspired by the work of other artists, including Piet Mondrian and Tom Wesselmann, as well as African art and ancient Greek vase painting. 

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Hommage to Piet Mondrian, Yves Saint Laurent (French, 1936–2008), cocktail dress. Fall-Winter 1965 haute couture collection. © Fondation Pierre Bergé–Yves Saint Laurent, Paris. Photo Alexandre Guirkinger

Another key element of this presentation is the inclusion of production documents that offer a rare behind-the-scenes glimpse into the creative workings of the Yves Saint Laurent fashion house and the private life of the couturier. Collection boards containing sketches and color swatches from 1962 to 2002 document every Saint Laurent haute couture show, while a room of “toiles”—the forms ateliers use to create as first draft of couture garments—offers a unique look into the various stages of production and fitting before the final garment was realized. The exhibition concludes in an explosion of color with a procession of eveningwear, including garments in black silk, blue-green chiffon, and white damask, which date from the early 1970s to 2002, when Saint Laurent officially retired with his final runway collection. 

History has already cemented Yves Saint Laurent’s reputation as one of the greatest couturiers of the 20th century,” said Alex Nyerges, VMFA Director. “This remarkable exhibition presents Saint Laurent’s exquisite designs in an immersive environment that allows visitors to see firsthand the development of Saint Laurent’s style, as well as his impact on fashion, film, and popular culture.” 

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"SOIR" collection board. © Fondation Pierre Bergé - Yves Saint Laurent

Yves Saint Laurent: The Perfection of Style is curated by Florence Müller, the Denver Art Museum’s Avenir Foundation Curator of Textile Art and Curator of Fashion, in collaboration with Chiyo Ishikawa, Seattle Art Museum’s Deputy Director of Art and Curator of European Painting and Sculpture. Barry Shifman, VMFA’s Sydney and Frances Lewis Family Curator of Decorative Arts, 1890 to the present, is the organizing curator for VMFA. 

As a fashion designer, Saint Laurent was always pushing boundaries,” said Dr. Michael R. Taylor, VMFA’s Chief Curator and Deputy Director for Art and Education. “During his 40 years of designing, Saint Laurent transformed the female wardrobe by borrowing the tuxedo, the safari jacket, and the pantsuit from men’s clothing. By turning traditional menswear into haute couture, Saint Laurent empowered women with this new form of clothing and, in doing so, revolutionized the fashion world. This exhibition demonstrates the impact of Saint Laurent’s work on the history of fashion and the present-day relevance of his style.”

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Yves Saint Laurent preparing his first collection in December 1961. © Pierre Boulat courtesy Association Pierre & Alexandra Boulat

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Evening-gown. Spring-Summer 1971 haute couture collection. Blue and black printed crepe de chine with pattern of ancient Greek figures; short sleeved bodice with empire waist emphasized by black silk crepe bias tape; skirt with sunburst pleating. © Fondation Pierre Bergé–Yves Saint Laurent, Paris. Photo Sophie Carre

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Evening gown. Homage to Tom Wesselmann. Autumn-Winter 1966 haute couture collection. Straight dress of purple wool jersey, pink wool jersey applique. © Fondation Pierre Bergé–Yves Saint Laurent, Paris. Photo Alexandre Guirkinger

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Yves Saint Laurent, 1969 Photo: Jeanloup Sieff, © The Estate of Jeanloup Sieff / Courtesy of the Seattle Art Museum

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Yves Saint Laurent for Christian Dior Haute Couture, Elephant blanc short trapeze evening dress, Spring 1958. Photo: © Fondation Pierre Bergé – Yves Saint Laurent, Paris/Alexandre Guirkinger

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First Pantsuit, Yves Saint Laurent, worn by Ulla. Fall-Winter 1966 haute couture collectionPhoto: © Fondation Pierre Bergé – Yves Saint Laurent, Paris/Gérard Pataa

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YSL’s “First” pantsuit, Spring 1967 Haute Couture. Photo: © Patrick Bertrand/Les Editions Jalou

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Yves Saint Laurent, Dress from the African Collection, Spring/Summer 1967Photo: © Fondation Pierre Bergé – Yves Saint Laurent, Paris

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Rive Gauche evening ensemble, Fall 1977. Photo: © Fondation Pierre Bergé – Yves Saint Laurent, Paris/Sophie Carre. 

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Wedding gown, Fall 1970 Haute Couture. Photo: © Fondation Pierre Bergé – Yves Saint Laurent, Paris/Sophie Carre

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Evening ensemble, Fall 1979 Haute Couture. Photo: © Fondation Pierre Bergé – Yves Saint Laurent, Paris/Sophie Carre 

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Evening ensemble, Spring 1981 Haute Couture. Photo: © Fondation Pierre Bergé – Yves Saint Laurent, Paris/Sophie Carre 

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Pouf dress, Fall 1981 Haute Couture. Photo: © Fondation Pierre Bergé – Yves Saint Laurent, Paris/Sophie Carre

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Evening Gown,  Yves Saint Laurent, Fall/Winter 1983, Paris haute couture collectionPhoto: © Fondation Pierre Bergé – Yves Saint Laurent, Paris/Alexandre Guirkinger

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Power dressing from the designer’s Spring 1985 Haute Couture collection. Photo: © Fondation Pierre Bergé – Yves Saint Laurent, Paris/Alexandre Guirkinger

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Original sketch, Homage to Georges Braque, Spring 1988 Haute Couture. Photo: © Fondation Pierre Bergé – Yves Saint Laurent, Paris

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Saint Laurent at work in his studio, 1976. Photo: © Fondation Pierre Bergé – Yves Saint Laurent, Paris/Guy Marineau

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Paper doll assembled by Yves Saint Laurent, circa 1950. © Fondation Pierre Bergé - Yves Saint Laurent, Paris

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Paper doll assembled by Yves Saint Laurent, circa 1950. © Fondation Pierre Bergé - Yves Saint Laurent, Paris

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Paper doll assembled by Yves Saint Laurent, circa 1950. © Fondation Pierre Bergé - Yves Saint Laurent, Paris

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Paper doll assembled by Yves Saint Laurent, circa 1950. © Fondation Pierre Bergé - Yves Saint Laurent, Paris

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Installation views.