(Originally published in Violet7 Magazine, May 2015 Violet7 Archive password: paris)
YSL Insults Fashion. YSL Collection Called ‘Bitchy’. Saint-Laurent: Truly Hideous. These were a few of the choicest headlines from fashion critics following the debut, in the spring of 1971, of Yves Saint-Laurent’s “Liberation” collection. The pieces that so upset Paris’s staid couture audience are now on show in Yves Saint-Laurent 1971: La Collection du Scandale, at the La Fondation Pierre Bergé – Yves Saint Laurent until July 19th. It took some research on the part of this visitor to understand how a collection of pussy bows, wide lapels, and slinky ruched dresses inspired such vitriol. The emerald green fur coat and sheer halters tucked into high-waisted pants seemed positively made for the bright-eyed ingenues of the disco years, but the touch of luridness wasn’t the culprit behind the headlines. It was, in fact, the blatant reference to the 1940s- and all its accompanying darkness in France’s collective memory- that brought the scandal. In an interview with Women’s Wear Daily, show curator Olivier Saillard explained, “To suddenly see on the catwalk a collection inspired by the slightly outré elegance of the forties was perceived as a form of irreverence toward those who lived through this period of restriction.” The critics weren’t off-base in their assessment of his motives. Saint-Laurent himself flippantly remarked, “What do I want? To shock the people, to force them to reflect.” We are used to irreverence in fashion, even expect a few designers each season to toe the line of good taste. But Saint-Laurent in 1971 was forging a new path for fashion, one where couture would become irrevocably linked with street style, and where high fashion could inspire real cultural discourse.