Ciara in Dundas. Janelle Monáe in the Zone. Sabrina Carpenter in Paco Rabanne. Ellie Goulding entered Zuhair Murad. Florence Pugh in Valentino, and at least half a dozen times at that.
The list goes on.
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With all the talk that 2023 is the year of sheer clothing – a trend set to strengthen in 2024 if the latest couture collections from Valentino, Schiaparelli and RVDK Ronald van der Kemp were any indication – a new exhibition at the Yves Museum reveals Saint Laurent in Paris. the historical roots of the view that dominates today.
Sheer: The Diaphanous Creations of Yves Saint Laurent, which opens Friday at the designer’s eponymous museum in Paris, sheds new light on his groundbreaking work with transparent textiles and his continuing influence.
For his Fall ’66 couture collection, Saint Laurent debuted his first sheer look with a Cigaline fabric dress with strategically placed threads. Two years later, he followed it up with a sheer blouse with a pussy bow paired with a smoking jacket and one of his most legendary looks: a sheer dress with an ostrich feather skirt. The ball completely exposed the breast of the model Danielle Luquet.
He was the first designer to “free the nipple”.
His designs were used as a tool to reveal the power of women in a time of seismic change for the sexes. He played with the contradictions of the idea of clothing as something to cover and protect the body, and the revealing nature of sheer fabrics. Saint Laurent reveled in the dichotomy and encouraged women to feel powerful in their bodies.
The director of the museum, Elsa Janssen, noted that Saint Laurent completely captured the spirit of the moment and was in line with the cultural upheaval of those years. She noted that only a few years earlier he had worked at the house of Christian Dior when he introduced another innovative style – the trapeze dress. This look, which was a forerunner of the A-line style, had a loose waist and lots of stiffness and volume, completely hiding the body.
With its clean look and strategic cuts, it gave other parts of the body equal opportunities for exposure. An original sketch of a low-cut dress, which showed the first few inches of the back, is on display. For another look, he placed a sheer lace heart draped across the back. It’s easy to imagine each of these dresses on today’s red carpet.
The exhibition has some of these fashion pieces on display as well as some playful pieces from his Rive Gauche line. A standout piece from the latest collection is a cocktail dress with a sheer bodice with a glittery embroidered cup detail on each breast, with a velvet skirt that reads ‘Je suis belle’ (‘I am beautiful’ ) in pink sequins.
Working with sheer fabrics put the female body front and center to show a rebellious femininity, and Saint Laurent saw his work as supporting women’s liberation.
“It’s also very important for the women’s struggle, which is very relevant today, especially when you see some feminist movements like Femen,” Janssen said, referring to the France-based activist group that organizes topless protests.
This also translates to what we’re seeing on the runways and red carpets. “All these female stars in the music industry who want you to see how comfortable they are in their bodies,” she added. “It’s a way for a woman to take her body as a strength.”
She said the Saint Laurent brand still makes the see-through pussy bow shirt today. “More than 60 years later, it’s still relevant,” she said. Designers are still inspired by the work of Saint Laurent. “It’s a very exciting textile from a technical and creative point of view, because you can play with the body, but at the same time you can also play with the structure of the garment.”
But any sartorial or political parallels were incidental to the exhibition’s conception, Janssen said.
“If anything, it’s unconscious because you’re looking at what’s going on in the world. But I’m focusing on the talent of Yves Saint Laurent, and for me I’m coming from the world of contemporary art, so I’m looking at his clothes as works of art, so I’m always looking at a piece and making a correspondence. with good artists”, she said.
Works by other artists who have examined the idea of transparency and fluidity are featured, including photographs by Man Ray, sketches by Anne Bourse, a painting by Francis Picabia, and a video performance shot by the Lumiere brothers of dancer and choreographer Loïe Fuller being swirled in a pink dress.
A series of Saint Laurent’s own drawings inspired by the work of Spanish painter Francisco Goya detail one of his strongest inspirations.
Forty garments are on display alongside original patterns and sketches, as well as hats, jewelery and a wall full of lace masks.
The exhibition will remain until August 25.
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