Parisian Museums Are Staging a Major Yves Saint Laurent Retrospective

To celebrate the 60th anniversary of the late couturier’s first collection, six museums across Paris are presenting his most notable garments alongside the fine art that influenced them.

The Mondrian Collection at Haagse Gemeente Museum, 1966. Photography by Eric Koch

In 1961, after a short-lived tenure leading Dior, Yves Saint Laurent launched his own haute couture house with businessman Pierre Bergé and staged his first runway show the following year, officially kickstarting the illustrious career of one of the 20th century’s most renowned couturiers. In celebration of the inaugural collection’s 60th anniversary, six major museums across Paris including the Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay, and the Centre Pompidou are co-presenting a tribute to Saint Laurent by juxtaposing some of his most notable garments with the fine art that inspired them.

Among the pieces on display is a cocktail dress from the label’s lauded 1965 Mondrian Collection alongside the Dutch painter’s seminal De Stijl canvases. An ensemble from 1981, meanwhile, recalls Henri Matisse’s lively La Blouse Roumaine (1940). More than 300 of his designs will go on display across the six venues, including an immersive tour of his creative process from concept to creation hosted by the Yves Saint Laurent museum. “I believe the work of a couturier is very much like that of an artist,” Saint Laurent once said. “In fact, I’ve constantly found inspiration in the work of contemporary painters: Picasso, Matisse, Mondrian. I owe my July 1966 collection to American painters like Wesselman, Roy Lichtenstein. All my dresses were lit with landscapes, moons, and sunlight. How could I resist pop art that was the expression of my youth?”

“La Blouse Roumaine” (1940) by Henri Matisse and an ensemble from Yves Saint Laurent’s Autumn/Winter 1981 collection. Photography by Nicolas Mathéus/Succession H. Matisse/Fondation Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent, Paris

Mouna Mekouar, who curated the multi-venue event, notes how the participation of France’s most renowned museums is unprecedented. “I thought it would be impossible to get so many museums to agree to our idea, but they were all very interested and hugely enthusiastic from the beginning,” she told The Guardian. “We didn’t want to put the clothes in a room—we wanted them among the permanent collections. It’s like a cultural archipelago.” Beyond the superb exhibition itself, the cross-collaboration of France’s renowned cultural institutions is a thrilling format that can open up dynamic possibilities for exhibitions in the future. The show runs Jan. 29–May 15. 

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