It has been exactly two weeks since I saw the Yves Saint Laurent Retrospective at the Denver Art Museum and I am still trying to assimilate it all in my mind. When I walked out of the exhibit, over 2 1/2 hours after walking in, I was completely overwhelmed. When asked about my five favorite garments my mind went blank. I couldn't imagine any garments at that point, just details and fabrics, beading, seaming, incredible workmanship. I felt like I had been cramming for an exam, trying to fit a lifetime's worth of inspiration into a short intense period of time. I wanted to remember everything, and although I did want to remember the garments themselves, those are available as photographs in the book. It was the details I wanted to absorb, the things that made the garments special, the things you can never quite tell from a photograph: the weight, hand and crispness of the fabric, the details of the workmanship. All I can say is that this exhibit was completely awe-inspiring to the point of being overwhelming.
I am still working on the remembering. Luckily I took notes and bought the catalog. Both are necessary because the catalog, although fabulous, does not necessarily highlight the things I wished to remember, but it is chock full of information.
I did have a few complaints. The lighting could have been better arranged. I do appreciate the difficulty of preserving fabric, but there were garments that simply were not visible do to the dim-almost-unto-blackness lighting. The wall devoted "le smoking" suffered the same fate as well, and although many people seeing the show at the same time as I loved it, I found it disappointing. But perhaps I was looking for more detail, and a bit more discussion of the development of the idea. I was looking at the exhibit through the eyes of a person who sews and is interested in the details of fashion and clothing, and for the most part, this is not the intended audience for this show. There were also some issues with fabric terminology, but then again, I quibble, and they did not diminish the overwhelming joy I experienced at seeing this show.
And the show was very good. There were over 200 garments in the show and one was able to get very close to a large number of them, close enough to inspect and admire, close enough to see seams and actual stitches. Close enough to be inspired.
There were many details I wish I could share but I cannot adequate photos to post here:
A blouse with lovely trim that looked for all the world like a suede fringe dipping below the jacket until you looked closely and saw that it was loops of silk, hand overcast along the edges.
Spectacular and meticulous matching of plaids on stripes, with every single seam looking perfectly planned and executed while still being fitted and flattering to a female form.
A simple tunic with a yoke and cut-on sleeves, cut just so that the grainline ran down the sleeve and created a slight bias at the yoke, gently pulling open the neckline slit just enough to show a hint of the collarbone and caress the shoulders.
There were many pants that were soft and feminine, cut with generous pleats and soft gathers over the curves of the hips. They were not tight and the pants were loose, in lightweight materials that flowed, but they were not wide by today's standards for wide pants. The pleats almost always faced inwards, and were quite generous, laying flat at the waist, and yet allowing room for movement without accentuating curves. I think sometimes we forget how flattering fabric can be when allowed to drape and flow.
The show reminded me how much of what we as women take for granted in our clothing today, we actually owe to Yves Saint Laurent. And it reminded me of the perfection of simplicity, quality, and attention to detail. Many of the clothes were apparently simple but actually only masterfully conceived to appear simple, to flatter, and not necessarily to draw attention to themselves, although some most certainly did.
Blending materials traditionally used for day and evening, or using materials out of their traditional context.
Even simple and icon dresses, such as this Mondrian dress have much to say. The dress is pieced, and although it was widely photographed and instantly recognizable, the book states that it was the "least worn". What I find remarkable is how simple and chic it is, and how well it fits. I am sure that some of those apparently vertical lines hide shaping and darts, as the dress flatters the figure and the geometry is an illusion. Today Ralph Rucci is the master of hiding shaping in decorative seaming, granted to a much more subtle effect than this particular dress. But the Mondrian dress itself still as much to say, much to teach us about art and illusion, fit and flattery, if we are willing to listen.
These dresses all took my breath away. Yes some of them are more wearable than others. All of them are filled with imagination, and beautifully executed. The piecing of the fabric is done with skill so that it does not destroy the hand of the fabric. But it is the next to the last skirt that haunts my mind. Yes, we've seen the image before, the leaves inspired by Matisse's cut outs. Many have copied this idea. I've even seen knitted sweaters with this pattern, although I think it is a les effective interpretation than in this silk tafetta skirt shown here. Yves Saint Laurent wrote of the movement of the skirt giving the effect of fluttering leaves moving around the wearer. I can imagine that, along with the scroop of the silk echoing the rustle of falling leaves as one walks in the woods on an autumn day.
The idea of rustling, floating leaves still haunts my dreams. I wonder where my imaginations will lead.
evening dresses courtesy of fashionista.com
tuxedos courtesy of fashionista.com
three dresses courtesy of fashionista.com
raffia coat, photo scanned from YSL, the book
beaded cardigan, chiffon blouse, flannel pants, photo scanned from YSL, the book
mondrian dress. photo scanned from YSL, the book.
evening dresses courtesy of fashionista.com