Page last updated at 22:50 GMT, Sunday, 1 June 2008 23:50 UK

Obituary: Yves Saint Laurent

Paloma Picasso and Yves Saint Laurent, January 2000
Paloma Picasso, daughter of the artist, was among his admirers
Yves Saint Laurent changed the face of the fashion industry when he became chief designer of the House of Dior at the age of 21.

His creations adorned some of the world's most famous women; he counted Catherine Deneuve, Paloma Picasso and Princess Grace of Monaco among his most ardent admirers.

But so much too of what ordinary women wear today has been influenced by Saint Laurent.

He designed clothes that reflected women's changing role in society; more confident personally, sexually and in the work-place.

Yves Saint Laurent was born in Algeria, on 1st August 1936. Although his parents were wealthy (his father owned a chain of cinemas), French Algerians were often looked down upon by people in mainland France.

The young Yves had an unhappy childhood. Because of his homosexuality, he said, he was bullied and generally ill-treated at school.

His mother brought him to Paris and he joined the House of Dior in 1954, and such was his impact that he became chief designer when Christian Dior died three years later.

Model wearing long YSL red dress
Saint Laurent brought elegance and beauty to haute couture
There followed a period of unremitting success. He was credited with introducing short skirts and leather jackets to the world of haute couture in 1960.

But later that same year his world and career collapsed. He was conscripted into the French Army at the height of the Algerian war, and suffered a nervous breakdown.

After three months in hospital he was discharged from the Army as medically unfit. But his return to the House of Dior was short-lived - he left almost immediately amid rumours that he had been dismissed.

He denied this, and claimed that he had resigned because the fashion house wanted him to work in London.

A lean period followed, but he made a comeback designing costumes for Zizi Jeanmaire, the French cabaret artiste. His love of the theatre led to many more triumphs as a set and costume designer.



Razia Iqbal looks back at the life of Yves Saint Laurent

In 1962, with his business and personal partner, Pierre Berge, he founded what was to become the multi-million-pound Saint Laurent fashion and perfume empire.

His flair re-established him as one of the world's top designers, dictating couture and ready-to-wear fashions. He brought in the safari jacket, the cape, peasant flounces and military blousons.

Trouser suits were almost unheard of before Yves Saint Laurent. Biker jackets, blazers and turtleneck sweaters came courtesy of him. He made women's clothes both more sexy and elegant.

But his personal life was less successful. The depression that ended his military career persisted - his partner, Pierre Berge, once said Saint Laurent had been born with a nervous breakdown. His ego was famously fragile.

Model wearing YSL brown outfit and holding cigarette in holder
His designs were sexy and chic
In the 1970s and '80s, he retreated into excess, becoming addicted to drink and drugs. He also indulged in what he himself called "an extraordinary sex life".

He and Berge split romantically but remained business partners. Reclusive, Saint Laurent rarely left his Paris flat, where he lived surrounded by a massive art collection.

In 1999, he and Berge, having failed to find a suitable successor of their choice, sold their ready-to-wear company Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche to Gucci for $1bn after it had run into financial difficulties.

What an absolutely exquisite designer, his fashions will be long remembered
Julie, Atlanta, USA

It was a decision he continued to regret, and left him a bitter and disillusioned man. He had little good to say for the new generation of designers, saying "I have nothing in common with this new world of fashion which has been reduced to mere window-dressing."

It was a sad end for a man whose very name became synonymous with elegance and beauty.


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