He was the first designer to take over at the house of Dior after Christian Dior died in 1957. He was just 21, and the hot new talent in Paris. In 1960, he gave Dior customers a taste of what was to come almost 40 years later by turning the house of Dior into turmoil with the Beat collection, inspired by the Left Bank students who hung around coffee bars wearing black and discussing existential poetry. It was the first time a couturier had been inspired by what was happening on the street and the customers could not quite understand why they would want to look like deluxe students in crocodile jackets and black turtlenecks. Like all the best fashion designers, he was a man before his time.
When he launched his own label in 1962, Saint Laurent was at fashion's cutting edge, making clothes that were as shocking and innovative at the time as Alexander McQueen's are today. In 1966, his smoking suit became an instant classic and the same year, he became friends with Andy Warhol and based his autumn '67 collection around Pop art. The following year came the safari look, still copied today, along with many of Yves's original ideas.
This year, Yves Saint Laurent, now aged 61, celebrates 40 years as a designer since his first collection for Dior was unveiled in 1958. Who says fashion designers have to be young and arrogant to set the pace? Yves Saint Laurent has been at it for almost half a century, and somehow still manages to be out at the front. Ever since his smoking suits were photographed by Helmut Newton in the Seventies, the designer has been a source of fascination for fashion stylists as well as other designers who love to pay homage to Yves. No other living designer has quite the respect and legendary status; he has, after all, done it all. But he is far from complacent. In the programme notes for his recent haute couture collection in Paris, he wrote: "It has taken me 40 years to find myself, and sometimes I am still looking."
One sure way of keeping ahead of the game is to commission the 34-year-old, German-born photographer Juergen Teller to create the advertising campaign for the Rive Gauche label. He was given the brief "electrochic" to throw a fresh eye on the YSL image. Teller's work appears on the pages of fashion publications including i-D, The Face, Dazed & Confused, Italian, British and American Vogue and Interview. The photographer most associated with Saint Laurent is, of course, Helmut Newton, although Mario Testino, Arthur Elgort and Gian Paulo Barbieri have all worked on campaigns for the company. But Teller's new-look YSL for both men and women is a fresh departure - hard, sexy, glossy and modern.
In March, an exhibition opens in New York, "Yves Saint Laurent - 40 years of creativity", featuring the work of some of the leading lights of fashion photography - Mario Testino, David Seidner, Juergen Teller, Mario Sorrenti, Nathaniel Goldberg, and Nick Knight -- who have been commissioned to recreate famous images of Saint Laurent's work. Their photographs aside, the show, expected to go on tour later in the year, will be as much a tribute to the work of Helmut Newton as to the couturier himself.
Juergen Teller's solo exhibition at The Photographer's Gallery, Newport Street, London WC2, opens this spring
Previous page black jersey shirt, pounds 415, and metal loop belt, pounds 370, both by Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche, available from 137 New Bond Street, London W1 (0171-493 1800), and 33 Sloane Street, London SW1 (0171-235 6706)
Left brown single-breasted wool jacket (part of suit), pounds 720, and cream shirt, pounds 320, both by Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche, available from 33 Sloane Street, London SW1 (0171-235 5839)
Right Black and white polka dot chiffon halter-neck blouse, pounds 405, by Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche, as before
Full-length belted raincoat, pounds 750, black shirt, from pounds 225, trousers, from pounds 165 all by Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche, as before.
Pink strappy sandals, pounds 195, by Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche women as before
Styling womenswear: Venetia Scott
Styling, menswear: Hedi Slimane
Hair: Ward at Calliste
Models: Kate Moss and Ben Jackson