Yves Saint Laurent’s precious designs take centre stage

Yves Saint Laurent: The Impossible Collection features 100 pieces from the designer’s 40-year career

Yves Saint Laurent’s 1962 drawing of a heart pendant
Yves Saint Laurent’s 1962 drawing of a heart pendant. Courtesy Foundation Pierre Bergé – Yves Saint Laurent
(Image credit: Pierre Bergé)

Assouline’s Yves Saint Laurent: The Impossible Collection, released this month, curates 100 legendary pieces from the iconic designer’s works, from his first runway looks in 1962 to his last couture presentation in 2002.

As well as exploring Yves Saint Laurent’s more provocative moves – his scandalous ideas included see-through blouses and Opium perfume, titillating designs that changed the landscape of fashion – his enthrallment with integrating jewelled elements and precious metals into rich Byzantine-like gowns is also examined.

Notable examples include the Lalanne evening dress, created with Claude Lalanne and marking the only time Saint Laurent collaborated with an artist. ‘I am truly astonished by her ability to combine the highest level of craftsmanship with poetry. Her beautiful sculptor’s hands reach through the mists of mystery to touch the shores of art,’ Saint Laurent remarked of the French sculptor. In a clashing mesh of materials, the inclusion of copper streamlined the gown’s silhouette. ‘She crafted molds of the model Veruschka’s body to be worn over two chiffon evening dresses, in Mediterranean blue and in black,’ says author Laurence Benaïm. ‘With bosom and midriff encased in galvanized copper sculptures, the models were transformed into sylph-like visions of ink and solidified sunshine.’

Dress from the Bambara collection and Lalanne evening dress

Left, dress from the Bambara collection, Spring 1967. Right, Lalanne evening dress, Autumn 1969.

(Image credit: Courtesy Yves Saint Laurent / Alexandre Guirkinger)

Other pieces encapsulate Saint Lauren’s fascination with the primitive art he and his partner, Pierre Bergé, collected. On the Bambara dress from 1967, Benaïm says: ‘This is a striking dress, on which the breasts project forward
 like arrows—sixteen years before Gaultier. The Bambara collection also featured sculptural headdresses made of natural hair, wooden bracelets and mask-motif sandals created by Roger Vivier, and other dresses alluded to totemic designs.’

The jewellery itself reinforces Saint Laurent’s iconic motifs. The heart, created by costume jeweller Robert Scemama and enveloped in rhinestones and faux rubies, appeared in every collection from 1976 onwards, becoming a haute couture accessory in 1992. ‘For safeguarding, he kept the heart in his apartment on rue de Babylone in Paris,’ says Benaïm. ‘His love of women was a lifelong guiding force, reaching back to when he was fourteen and penned a novel, Parlez-moi d’amour (Speak to me of love).’

Yves Saint Laurent, second from right, with, l-r, Pierre Bergé, Loulou de la Falaise and Marina Schiano in Paris

Yves Saint Laurent, second from right, with, l-r, Pierre Bergé, Loulou de la Falaise and Marina Schiano in Paris, April 1979. Courtesy Fairchild Archive 

(Image credit: Press)



Hannah Silver is the Art, Culture, Watches & Jewellery Editor of Wallpaper*. Since joining in 2019, she has overseen offbeat design trends and in-depth profiles, and written extensively across the worlds of culture and luxury. She enjoys meeting artists and designers, viewing exhibitions and conducting interviews on her frequent travels.