Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Yves Saint-Laurent: feminist?

by Laura Pedersen

The world of fashion has become a far too simple target for the feminist movement. The silk and sequined gauntlet has been thrown down: I officially challenge the accusation that the emphasis on physical beauty and the plethora of size zero models precludes the industry’s ability to contribute to the feminist movement.

An exhibit of Yves Saint Laurent finest haute couture pieces at San Francisco’s DeYoung Museum of Modern Art has converted me.

In 1966, the recently established Laurent launched his women’s line, a line designed with the specific goal to liberate its wearers through the infusion of male wardrobe elements into classic female pieces. Hilary has Laurent to thank in part for the credence gifted this item (Laurent and, incidentally, the tampon, although that will be saved for another article). His unique color pallet, which has a not-so-mysterious resemblance for the hodge-podge mix that designers have recently entertained, further challenged the status quo. And yet, his work maintains a clear understanding of the feminine: waistline and bust are emphasized, particularly in his concept sketches.

It may be difficult to place Laurent and hippie bra burners in the same decade, let alone the same movement, but there is something to be said for a man inside the industry so many blog posts have come to criticize who used his influence to challenge the norm. The power of an insider should not be underestimated, particularly an insider in an arena where even ideas questionable in society’s eye can be accepted under the embracing category of ‘art.’
One final note: this clothing was meant for more than the runway. His haute couture pieces ended up in the closets of women who could literally wear his message, extending his range of influence. Nan Kempner, a San Francisco socialite, provides an exceptional example. (Feminists, take notes). During one eventful evening out, Kempner was detained at the doors of an upscale restaurant and told that her YSL pantsuit was not appropriate dinner attire for a lady. Kempner responded by dropping the lower half of the combination, converting the garment instantly into an ultra-miniskirt.

The value is all in how you wear it.

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