After watching "L'Amour Fou," the 2011 documentary by Pierre Thoretton about Yves Saint Laurent, I have been endlessly fascinated by the designer's partner of over fifty years, Pierre Bergé. The film follows Bergé as he begins to reconstruct his life after Saint Laurent's death in 2008 by selling belongings. Examining these material possessions, which include art by Picasso, Mondrian, Matisse and more, allows Bergé to reflect on their professional and personal relationship, as well as evaluate the impact of Saint Laurent's career as a fashion designer following his physical decline.
Now, Bergé is again central to the contemporary narrative of Yves Saint Laurent's career, this time as the co-author of a book, "Saint Laurent Rive Gauche: Fashion Revolution" which accompanies an exhibit at The Pierre Bergé Foundation in Paris. The foundation's 15th exhibit highlights Saint Laurent's ready-to-wear-line, Rive Gauche, and explores the impact of this collection and first store on contemporary French fashion.
Bergé writes, "In 1966, no one could have predicted that September [26th] would become a key date in the history of fashion. On that day, the first Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche store opened in Paris. It was the first time a great couturier had designed ready-to-wear and given it as much thought as haute couture... By opening a boutique separate from his fashion house, Saint Laurent was actually performing a revolutionary act, moving away from aesthetics into the social arena. It was a manifesto." Today, it is easy to take for granted that couturiers like Chanel, Versace and Armani have affordable beauty lines, diffusion collections and fast fashion collaborations that enable more people to partake in European luxury goods, but this look back at Rive Gauche serves as a reminder of Saint Laurent's innovation.
Bergé is critical to the retrospective in Paris, which includes over 70 designs from the Rive Gauche collections, as he maintained the archives for the house of Yves Saint Laurent with remarkable thoroughness. When Stefano Pilati, the former creative director of Yves Saint Laurent, spoke at the French Institute Alliance Française last week, he remarked on the impressive organization Bergé had coordinated of Saint Laurent's designs, "It is an act of love," then reflecting on his eight years at the house, "but maybe they don't love me so much."
'Saint Laurent Rive Gauche – La Révolution de la Mode' is currently on exhibit at the Fondation Pierre Bergé - Yves Saint Laurent until July 17, 2012. The book is available for $35 from Amazon.com.