In 1966, French clothing designer Yves Saint Laurent designed Le Smoking—the first tuxedo suit for women—a move so bold for the time that most restaurants did not allow women to wear the tuxedo suits, or any pants for that matter, when dining in their establishments. Le Smoking was just one of the designer’s memorable legacies. Saint Laurent’s influence on the industry is still seen today as his ingenuity lives on in modern fashion. In a rare opportunity, lovers of fashion can view Yves Saint Laurent’s most groundbreaking work on display at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA) until August 27th.

Yves Saint Laurent preparing his first collection with Victoire Doutreleau, December 1961. © Pierre Boulat/Association Pierre and Alexandra Boulat. Photo: Pierre Boulat

The exhibit, Yves Saint Laurent: The Perfection of Style, features 100 examples of the designer’s garments and accessories, some of which have never been seen before. The VMFA is the only venue on the East Coast to house the exhibit, which has been organized by the Seattle Art Museum in partnership with the Fondation Pierre Bergé – Yves Saint Laurent in Paris.

Exhibition Interiors by David Stover © VMFA

Yves Saint Laurent’s legacy is visible throughout the exhibit, starting from his first design as a teenager, including his work that challenged gender norms in the ’60s, and culminating with a runway of the icon’s most spectacular evening gowns sorted by color.

Exhibition Interior by David Stover © VMFA

Local Charlottesville artisan, Liz Hanson created jewelry pieces honoring Yves Saint Laurent’s distinctive style for the exhibition’s gift shop. An artist who strives for “depth and simplicity” in her work, Liz Hanson created a beautiful and bold jewelry line that echoes one of the dresses on display from Saint Laurent’s Mondrian Collection. Yves Saint Laurent’s Mondrian Collection, an homage to the work of Piet Mondrian, featured what Mondrian called “The Trinity”—primary colors red, blue and yellow—and geometric shapes. Hanson created bangles, cuffs and chandelier earrings using those primary colors and the geometric shapes that were distinctive of Mondrian’s work and Saint Laurent’s following collection. In addition, she used hand-cut ovals to create necklaces featuring the primary colors that would add a softer element to her line.

Metalsmith Liz Hanson’s jewelry displayed at the VMFA and jewelry in her Yves Saint Laurent and Piet Mondrian inspired collection.

Another feature of the Yves Saint Laurent exhibition is the inclusion of sketches and notes that offer insight to the fashion designer’s creative process. On a wall display are color swatches from 40 years of pioneer work in the fashion industry.

Left Photo: Exhibition Interior by David Stover © VMFA; Right Photo: SOIR Spring-Summer 1971 haute couture collection board, Yves Saint Laurent (French, 1936-2008). Mixed media on thick grid paper pinned with fabric swatches. © Fondation Pierre Bergé – Yves Saint Laurent, Paris.

Yves Saint Laurent officially retired in 2002 with his final runway show, just six years before his passing at the age of 71. His character and legacy live on today in the many designers he has inspired.

Once you have completed walking through the exhibition, be sure to browse the gift shop’s carefully selected items that speak to the exhibition and show the many ways in which Yves Saint Laurent’s style and work is still influencing new works today, including Liz Hanson‘s jewelry.

Yves Saint Laurent surrounded by Laetitia Casta, Catherine Deneuve and his models, all wearing tuxedos, at the end of his 40-year retrospective fashion show. Centre Pompidou, Paris, January 22, 2002. © Fondation Pierre Bergé – Yves Saint Laurent, Paris. Photo: Guy Marineau.


Lead Photo: Exhibition Interior by David Stover © VMFA

All exhibition photos and captions courtesy of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

Metalsmith Liz Hanson Jewelry photos courtesy of Liz Hanson


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