From our files: Yves Saint Laurent and team succeed Dior

In 1957, the Monitor covered the launch of the career of Yves Saint Laurent, who died on June 1, when he became head of Christian Dior's couture house at age 21. He would go on to become of the most influential fashion designers of the past century.

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    Designer Yves Saint Laurent in Paris in June 1998.
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From the November 11, 1957 issue of The Christian Science Monitor

Yves-Mathhieu Saint Laurent has been chosen to spark creative design in the Maison Christian Dior, one of a team of four to head the firm which currently does an annual twenty-million-dollar business.This news, eagerly awaited by the fashion world, has just been announced by Marcel Boussac, millionaire French textile magnate and financier of the firm, and Jacques Rouel, its business administrator.

Still in his early 20's, M. Saint Laurent has been with the firm since he was 18. The late Christian Dior often laughingly referred to him as "my Dauphin." He has designed for the boutique and some of his specially successful models have even been included in Dior's big opening.

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Yves-Matthieu Saint Laurent helped M. Dior to prepare his last collection in the great designer's Riviera hideaway. Dior had already selected some materials and made some sketches for next spring and summer that will serve as directives for the new line.

Close association

M. Saint Laurent will also be ably assisted by the expert team of Dior's personal collaborators, who have worked closely with him since he went into business for himself. Madame Raymonde, M. Dior's assistant, often referred to as "my second self," Madame Bricard, valued style consultant, and Madame Marguerite, head of the workrooms - "Dame Couture in person." This experienced team will continue to guide the workers in the high standards of craftsmanship insisted on by M. Dior.

M. Saint Laurent's technique is one of the most precious legacies left to the couture by the great designer. His dresses, he said, must be "constructed like buildings," they must be able to stand alone, and be perfectly finished inside and out.

The tradition of a Paris couture house, which depends largely on the technique of the workers, is very tenacious. It can keep on going for years by its own momentum, so to speak. But if it is to remain in the lead, it must, of course, be sparked by new ideas.

Christian Dior will be a hard figure to replace in our time. He possessed all the qualification that combine to make a couturier great. He could design, drape cut and execute a toile (the muslim pattern of the model) himself. He had well-nigh perfect taste, was a consummate colorist and understood the "behavior" of materials. Architecture was his hobby and he visualized the ideal settings to show off his own fashions. He established himself the price at which each model must be sold.

Retiring, kind

Besides this, Christian Dior was probably the most beloved of all Paris couturiers. Kind as he was gifted, this retiring "country gentleman" expressed to a remarkable degree the rare quality of empathy. He was vitally concerned with the well-being of his employees, established a canteen with prices scaled to salaries, and a complete social security setup on the premises, and set aside one of his country estates as a rest home for the feminine personnel.

Christian Dior's success story was perhaps the most phenomenal of fashion dreams come true. His aim was to have a small "craftsman's workshop" where he would cater to a tiny elite of discriminating women. But the triumph of his "New Look" in 1947 pushed him into big business. The Main Dior now shelters six enterprises and 1,200 workers under one roof. With main branches in New York, London and Caracas, eight independent firms and 16 allied subsidiaries spread the Dior label over five continents.

Widely influential

About 100,000 people have seen Dior fashion shows each year, and his taste has influenced millions of women who will never cross the elegant threshold of 30 Avenue Matignon.

Though the immediate future of the Maison Christian Dior has now been settled, M. Dior's passing has brought to the surface preoccupations never far from the thoughts of those interested in the continuance of Paris prestige. This prestige has always depended upon the effectiveness of Paris couturiers as a group. And will illustrious name plates taken down one by one from Paris doors in recent years - Molyneux, Lelong, Schiaparelli, Jacques Fath and others - there is natural concern and speculation as to who can replace them.

Among the half dozen talented youngsters who have come to the fore, three names are most often mentioned. Hubert de Givenchy, young, handsome, trained by Schiaparelli, who burst into the headlines in 1952; Guy Laroche, whose establishment is only 9 months old; and Jierre Gardin, who cut his style-teeth chez Dior.

But though some of the their clothes as smart and exciting, these young "vanguardists," as they are called, have followed Balenciaga's lead out of touch with both press and general public. They are more interested in revolutionizing the feminine figure than in dressing women. They would like - or so it appears - to put woman in a box and keep her there.

Nowadays a few extremists will follow any leader, but the mass of cash customers, who keep the twenty-million-dollar yearly profits rolling in, will no longer do so.

Not restrictive

One reason for Dior's supremacy was that his point of view was universal. He said: "There is no such thing as one new line. The apparently prevailing tend is the choice of clients and journalists." He launched each season from five to seven basic motifs. Besides that he tried to design dresses for all types of women in the dozen countries where his selected mannequins put on fashion shows once or twice yearly.

Too many young European designers seem unable or unwilling to face the fashion facts of life: that chic is no longer the monopoly of a few "best dressed women" but of women everywhere and in all walks of life. These women lead busy, active lives. They want to look and feel at ease in clothes that can properly rise to any occasion from morn to midnight. And they want to look like women, not like "Little Monsters," "trussed turkeys," or "sad sacks"(to quote some of the season's Paris headlines).

Practically elegant

A firm grasp of these fashion facts has been one of the most important factors in the almost incredibly rapid development of our American fashion industries. American designers, particularly those of the West and Southwest, responded to our need for casual, becoming clothes that could go anywhere without looking out of place. But the casual approach has by no means ruled out elegance. They now stress more formality, without sacrificing freshness, becomingness and grace.

But Paris still has a lively prestige-bearer in Gabrielle Chanel, chose by Neiman-Marcus for their Golden Anniversary Award as the "most significant fashion influence of the 20th century." And the would-be dauphins might be well-advised to follow her counsel. Says Mademoiselle Chanel: "The smart dress depends on the woman who wears it." And "to be practical is to be elegant."

"Women are too busy now," she adds, "for all those fittings." And so, Chanel believes, the future, even of the Paris couture, lies in ready-made fashions.

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