Timeless and iconic: the Bowes Museum hosts UK’s first ever Yves Saint Laurent retrospective

Yves Saint Laurent clothes displayed on mannequins
England’s Bowes Museum has staged a remarkable coup by bagging the UK’s first-ever Yves Saint Laurent retrospective, running until 25 October 2015
(Image credit: TBC)

Fans of fashion history have until 25 October to make the pilgrimage to what may count as England’s remotest major museum, which has staged a remarkable coup by bagging the UK’s first ever Yves Saint Laurent retrospective. The Bowes Museum (opens in new tab) is a vast French château plonked improbably down next to the pretty little north-country market town of Barnard Castle, surrounded by the spectacularly beautiful landscape of upper Teesdale. Built in the mid-19th century by John and Joséphine Bowes to house their vast treasury of art, furniture and porcelain, the museum also has a superb fashion collection. Joséphine was a French actress and the couple spent most of their lives in Paris (where John bought her a theatre), so the connection with Yves Saint Laurent actually makes brilliant sense.

It’s certainly a thrilling exhibition, tracing the precociously talented Saint Laurent’s stratospheric rise from dreamy schoolboy (the show includes some of the paper mannequins he dressed in cut-out couture) to Christian Dior’s right-hand man and successor, before setting up on his own with his long-time partner Pierre Bergé, the business brains behind YSL. Every aspect of Saint Laurent’s 40-year career is represented, from the original ‘Le Smoking’ tuxedo to his enchantingly bright-eyed celebrations of Mondrian and pop, and his effortlessly stylish sketches for the runway shows, still pinned with sample fabrics; there's even an entire wall of hats in every shape and size, revealing that his imagination was every bit as fertile when it came to accessories.

Introducing the show, Bergé – now in his 80s – rather touchingly described their relationship as one in which ‘creativity always came first. We were never motivated by business: the business was only a success because of Yves’ creative genius.’ If only more ‘creative’ businesses could say the same today.

Six YVS dresses on mannequins

The exhibition traces the precociously talented Saint Laurent’s rise from Christian Dior’s right-hand man and successor, to setting up on his own with his long-time partner Pierre Bergé

(Image credit: TBC)

Floating hats on display of different shapes and sizes

Hats of every shape and size are on display in the show

(Image credit: TBC)

Wedding dress inspired by Shakespeare

'Wedding dress' – a tribute to William Shakespeare. Photography courtesy Yves Saint Laurent and Fondation Pierre Bergé 

(Image credit: Yves Saint Laurent and Fondation Pierre Bergé )

Embroidered jacket

Embroidered evening jacket, from the S/S 1991 haute couture collection. Photography courtesy Yves Saint Laurent and Fondation Pierre Bergé 

(Image credit: Yves Saint Laurent and Fondation Pierre Bergé )

Short cocktail dress in bold colours

Yves Saint Laurent's famous short cocktail dress – a tribute to Piet Mondrian. Photography courtesy Yves Saint Laurent and Fondation Pierre Bergé 

(Image credit: Yves Saint Laurent and Fondation Pierre Bergé )

Black dress with red bust

One of YSL's other cocktail dresses, this time inspired by pop art. Photography courtesy Yves Saint Laurent and Fondation Pierre Bergé 

(Image credit: Yves Saint Laurent and Fondation Pierre Bergé )

Two male smart suits and clothing on mannequin

Pictured are the pantsuit (left); and the long evening ensemble (right). Photography courtesy Yves Saint Laurent and Fondation Pierre Bergé 

(Image credit: Yves Saint Laurent and Fondation Pierre Bergé)

Black evening gown with lace back design

Short evening gown worn by Marina Schiano. Photography courtesy the Estate of Jeanloup Sieff

(Image credit: The Estate of Jeanloup Sieff)

Paper doll design sketches

Pictured: two different outfits for the ‘Suzy’ doll – paper ensembles cut out of magazines and glued onto cardboard, 1935–1954. Photography courtesy Yves Saint Laurent and Fondation Pierre Bergé 

(Image credit: Yves Saint Laurent and Fondation Pierre Bergé )

Paper doll drawings of dress and jacket

Two other ‘Suzy’ doll outfits, 1935–1954. Photography courtesy Yves Saint Laurent and Fondation Pierre Bergé 

(Image credit: Yves Saint Laurent and Fondation Pierre Bergé )

Pencil sketch of dress

A detail from YSL atelier's specification sheet, from the A/W 1968 haute couture collection. Photography courtesy Yves Saint Laurent and Fondation Pierre Bergé 

(Image credit: Yves Saint Laurent and Fondation Pierre Bergé )

Sketches and material brainstorming on paper

‘Soir Long Broderies’ collection board, S/S 1988 haute couture collection. Photography courtesy Yves Saint Laurent and Fondation Pierre Bergé 

(Image credit: Yves Saint Laurent and Fondation Pierre Bergé )

Material texture and colour brainstorming

Collection board A/W 1970, haute couture collection. Photography courtesy Yves Saint Laurent and Fondation Pierre Bergé 

(Image credit: Yves Saint Laurent and Fondation Pierre Bergé )

Black and white photo of woman in dress

Evening ensemble worn by Nicole; 'Opéra-Ballets Russes' from the A/W 1976 haute couture collection, at Hôtel InterContinental, Paris. Photography courtesy Yves Saint Laurent and Fondation Pierre Bergé 

(Image credit: Yves Saint Laurent and Fondation Pierre Bergé )

Model on catwalk wearing pink starred cape

Evening ensemble worn by Amalia; A/W 2000 haute couture collection, at Hôtel InterContinental, Paris. Photography courtesy Yves Saint Laurent and Fondation Pierre Bergé 

(Image credit: Yves Saint Laurent and Fondation Pierre Bergé )

Model on catwalk wearing blue dress

Haute couture collection, F/W 1976. Photography courtesy Yves Saint Laurent and Fondation Pierre Bergé 

(Image credit: Yves Saint Laurent and Fondation Pierre Bergé )

Transparent evening gown in black

Evening gown, A/W 1968 haute couture collection; worn in a retrospective fashion show at the Centre Pompidou in January 2002. Photography courtesy Yves Saint Laurent and Fondation Pierre Bergé 

(Image credit: Yves Saint Laurent and Fondation Pierre Bergé )

Evening dress with bird design

Haute couture collection, S/S 1988. Photography courtesy Yves Saint Laurent and Fondation Pierre Bergé 

(Image credit: Yves Saint Laurent and Fondation Pierre Bergé )

Orange cape with bird design on back

A piece from the haute couture collection, S/S 1988. Photography courtesy Yves Saint Laurent and Fondation Pierre Bergé 

(Image credit: Yves Saint Laurent and Fondation Pierre Bergé )

Evening gown with long cape in yellow

Evening ensemble worn by Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, from the A/W 1983 haute couture collection. Photography courtesy Yves Saint Laurent and Fondation Pierre Bergé

(Image credit: Yves Saint Laurent and Fondation Pierre Bergé )

Black and white photo of artist drawing sketches

Yves Saint Laurent at work in his studio at 5 Avenue Marceau, Paris, in 1976

(Image credit: TBC)

Black and white photo of Yves Saint Laurent

Yves Saint Laurent, photographed by Pierre Bergé, while on holiday in Concarneau, 1966 (right); and at work (left). Photography courtesy Yves Saint Laurent and Fondation Pierre Bergé 

(Image credit: Yves Saint Laurent and Fondation Pierre Bergé )

Photograph of Pierre Bergé

Pierre Bergé at the Bowes Museum on the show's opening night. Photography: Andy Barnham

(Image credit: Andy Barnham)

ADDRESS

The Bowes Museum
Barnard Castle
County Durham
DL12 8NP

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