This year has seen the release of a pair of biopics eulogising the late and very great Yves Saint Laurent – the work, certainly, but also the man. Played in the first (Yves Saint Laurent) by Pierre Niney, above, and in the second (Saint Laurent – see what they did there?) by Gaspard Ulliel, the most interesting fact about both is that your focus winds up on Yves Saint Laurent the man, rather than YSL the brand. Namely, what the man put on his back.
There is an instantly recognisable Yves Saint Laurent “look” – both films immediately render their leads as designer doppelgängers. At least at the start of his career, this consisted of his signature, slightly oversized, heavy-rimmed glasses, and a skinny, skinny black suit. “He wore very tight jackets, like he was trying to keep himself buttoned up against the world,” commented Saint Laurent’s personal and professional partner, Pierre Bergé. Later, Saint Laurent blossomed into the quintessential Sixties wild child, growing his hair and donning paisley-print shirts and blue jeans – the one item of clothing Saint Laurent said he wished he had invented. He had to make do with inventing ready-to-wear for women and designer menswear too, with the launch of Rive Gauche pour Homme in 1968.
In pictures: Yves Saint Laurent
The Saint Laurent style is easy to translate into menswear today – and not just because the modern incarnation of the label, designed by Hedi Slimane, influences everyone from high-street to fellow designers. Yves Saint Laurent popularised many of the styles we come to associate with contemporary menswear – he brought the leather jacket to high fashion, for him and for her, back in the sixties, turning out the first high-fashion “blouson noir” in his final couture collection for the House of Dior (Saint Laurent designed Dior from 1958 to 1960).
Saint Laurent’s menswear choices still look modern. Maybe not the ponyskin jacket with matching thigh-high boots sported by Rudolf Nureyev in 1969, but YSL’s skinny suits, safari shirts and jackets, trench coats and even the hippy-ish paisley shirts are seasonal staples. The leather jacket is a given, an icon of cool – a Saint Laurent one will set you back a cool £2,500, but the label’s sleek, stripped-back interpretation of the style has influenced dozen of homages. But for those specs, the Saint Laurent label is the only one worth investing in. It’s iconic – in the true sense of the word.