Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Scandalous! St. Laurent: 1971 (expo)

Last week, I was at a cafe with a friend, sipping a chilled glass of rose wine while commenting on how horrible the passerby's were dressed. "Everybody dresses like rats, today," I said with disdain. "True. There is a lack of elegance and style on the street," my friend added. And then we headed a few streets over to see some "real" fashion at the exhibition, "Yves Saint Laurent: 1971."

Dubbed the scandal collection, YSL's Spring/Summer 1971 Haute Couture was the worst received of all times. It drew comments from the international press like, "Nauseating," from Britain's Daily Guardian. "A tour de force of bad taste," "women at their worst," proclaimed Paris-Jour magazine. "St. Laurent-an insult to fashion," wrote a paper in Las Vegas. Even Eugenia Sheppard. fashion editor for the New York Post, chimed in with a comment, "The Ugliest Show in Town!" The media hated it. Local personalities were offended by it. But far across the ocean, me and an entire generation of fashionistas fell head over heels in love with it.
The exhibit features lifesized reproductions of St. Laurent's sketches, used for cataloging the season's lineups.
Completely inspired by clothes from the war torn 1940's, blouses and dresses had sweetheart necklines, puffy sleeves, peplums and flared skirts. Everything was accessorized with turbans, rhinestone studded bracelets and wedge heeled shoes with ankle straps. And then there was the makeup...deep plum kissed mouths and tri-toned eyeshadows. It was a tarted up look, the critics deemed originated from the "wrong" side of Paris.
Photo: Supermodel, Jean Shrimpton photographed by David Bailey for Vogue Magazine (l), Yvette in dolly version (r) which includes the scandalous see-thru blouse

Thirty years prior, France had been an occupied nation in the midst of a difficult world war with its textile rationing and poor quality clothes. An era, many insisted was best forgotten. St. Laurent, however, felt that with all the political, social and sexual changes brought about in the 1970's, it was time for street style to make a profound statement in fashion.
The embroidered sunburst pattern on blazer is a reoccuring garment found in many of St. Laurent collections.
As a young fashion student living ocean away, I was neither aware nor did I care about any of the controversy. I saw a style of fashion that intrigued me enough to copy everything I could not afford to buy.
Chubbies were all the rage in the 1970s as were styles with wide, waist cinching inserts or belts.
The short bolero fur jacket was renamed "chubby" in the 1970's and all the rage.
Dress for success: YSL's ultimate power suit appeared just as women began to gain ground in the work force.

YSL's tuxedo suit was recut into pinstripe "gangster" pantsuits. (I made one to wear at graduation.) Yes, I chopped off my hair and curled it a la 1940's then redrew my face with plucked eyebrows, sunset colored eyeshadows and raisin toned lipstick. (Come to the Cabaret....)

This exhibition is on until July 19 at the Fondation Pierre Berge/Yves Saint Laurent, (3, rue Leonce Reynaud, Paris 16) housed in a small but elegant venue which was once the late designer's Couture house. The story of this collection is told through 84 items, some featured on mannequins and set against a backdrop of larger than life sized croquis, others represented by original sketches, photographs, and a video of that infamous 1971 presentation.
Impeccable tailoring marks this collection of coat-dresses based on his famous tuxedo suits for women.

Compared to today's street style, everything is incredibly well tailored, elegant and tasteful but also very conservative (perfect for seniors.) As I thought about this collection and how it impacted my own wardrobe, I had to laugh thinking how the generation before me must have scoured as I pranced down the street with my puffed sleeves and peplums, my turban wrapped head and fake monkey chubby.
Was it ugly or just the sign of those times? Will today's ugly be tomorrow's classics?
For a glimpse of that notorious collection; click HERE;

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  1. Hi April, this was really interesting! I was amazed by the fact that this must have been one of the most influential collection of modern times. I watched the video and the sketches and I realized that I knew them all...amazing
    to answer your question: YSL collection was not ugly and I believe that we will look back on today's "rats style" with a benevolent eye (perhaps drawing a line at Cinese polyester lace dresses.....)

    1. LOL!!! Who knows what lies ahead. Maybe that horrible polyester lace will be tomorrow's treasure! This expo was like visiting an old friend. I was amazed how much of the look I had worn. And I was shocked to learn how that collection was so badly received. But it was so much of a success, the critics had to eat their words later! This has been a wonderful trip with lots to see!! I'm happy I can share it like this.

  2. The critics who said this was ugly... little did they know trousers with dropped bottoms were coming in a few decades :D Maybe I'm just used to seeing a lot of distasteful clothes but every single one of these outfits you showed look gorgeous to me. And your scaled creations are even better, as usual!

    1. Thank you, Black Kitty. Even in the expensive stores today, you don't see clothes so impeccably made. The critics who called this ugly were prisoners of a previous era who didn't see change coming. It happens to all of us as we get older. That's why I try to look at fashion with an open eye, even if I don't understand or appreciate the aesthetics. But I do sometimes think how critics I knew 25+ years ago would react to things I see on catwalks or the street today.

    2. "little did they know trousers with dropped bottoms were coming in a few decades" ??? You do know that this collection set the tone for the 70s? It did not take decades for these styles to become popular. Everyone ignored the critics.

    3. You are so right! Sometimes things that look like trash today, will be revered as treasure later on. I don't think the fashion press today has the same power or influence it did back then. And that is a good thing!

  3. Hello from Spain: I really like this designer. Your creations are fabulous. Beautiful and elegant proposals.We keep in touch

  4. Thank you, Marta. I really like this designer as well. We'll be in touch again soon!


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