Like the CEO of a business groomed his successor, Christian Dior had his protÃ©gÃ©: Yves Saint-Laurent. Fashion’s greats aren’t only products of their own creativity but rather they are a combination of individual vision, an inspirational mentorship and in some cases, a generous financial backer. While Dior’s â€œNew Lookï¿½? freed women from the constraints of the WWII era, so did the power suits from the 1983 YSL collection. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree…
Indicative of an era that bordered 1940’s conservatism and 1960’s liberal spirit, Dior’s Corolle Line introduced a silhouette that had both the classic elegance of decades past yet hinted at excess, perhaps a foreshadowing of future generations. Dubbed the â€œNew Look” by Life Magazine in 1947, Dior’s line was feminine and luxurious. His vision was the antithesis of the drab, lifeless styles during WWII. Employing more than 80 yards of fabric at times, Dior’s Spring of 1947 “Corolle,” or “figure 8” themed line focused on narrow shoulders, a nipped waist and emphasized the bust. In spring of 1955, Dior’s â€œA-Line” debuted. With an undefined waist and a smooth silhouette that widens over the hips, it’s no wonder that this universally flattering style has a trickle down effect: From Bill Blass to Banana Republic, the A Line skirt is a wardrobe staple.
Even Dior was inspired by his predecessors. His trompe-l’oeil detailing was redolent of early 20th century paintings and soft-to-hard juxtapositions were reminiscent of 1860’s Parisian style. Architectural concepts from the Second Empire were often referenced in his eveningwear.
After establishing his main house in 1946, a 21-year-old Yves Saint-Laurent became Dior’s assistant in 1953 and was destined to be his successor. His first â€œTrapeze Line” for the House of Dior in 1958 brought his audience to tears. After being deployed by the military, the young YSL had a nervous breakdown during his first days of training and was sent home. His mental instability proved to be too much for the House of Dior. YSL was released and those very instabilities that ousted him from his mentor’s house, proved to be the creative force behind his very own maison de couture that he founded in 1962.
Apprenticing under Dior enabled Saint Laurent to subconsciously emulate his master’s vision. As Dior used menswear tailoring for some of his women’s clothing, YSL adopted the concept of menswear for women. In 1966, Saint Laurent executed â€œle smoking,” the first tuxedo suit for women. Derived from the English term â€œsmoking suit,” a suit intended for indoor use, the YSL tuxedo for women had sleeves that were pinned according to a bent arm, with hand on hip, rather than an arm hanging down. Playing a role in the sexual revolution, YSL emancipated women with his clothes.
Saint Laurent is responsible for the acceptance of trouser suits for women. Always the socially conscious designer, in 1968 Saint Laurent responded to the May student uprisings in Paris by creating a line of tailored women’s pantsuits. It can be said that every trouser suit designed for women owes its existence to YSL. Like Chanel liberated the female body, Saint Laurent gave power to women through men’s clothes. With an African theme, he created the â€œSafari” suit for his Spring/Summer collection of 1968 and transformed the masculine hunting gear into townwear for women. The 1976 Spring/Summer collection â€œBallets Russes,” which drew inspiration from the Russian ballet troupe, was triumphed as the â€œNew New Lookï¿½? by the New York Times.
His constantly revisited androgynous look has reverberated in recent collections from Gucci and Prada. Christian Lacroix and Marc Jacobs both cite Saint Laurent as the reason they started a career in fashion. So by a degree of separation, those designers were in fact inspired by Dior. If art is cyclic, fashion is it’s greatest prodigy.
Make sure to visit the Chicago History Museum’s Costume and Textiles Gallery. Until March 2007 exquisite collection of ball gowns, day ensembles, and suits by Christian Dior will be on exhibit.