French designer Yves Saint Laurent (1936–) was born in Oran, Algeria, and, at age seventeen, settled in Paris, France. There he attempted to secure work as a fashion and costume designer. Two years later, after the publication of several of his sketches, he was invited to meet the celebrated designer Christian Dior (1905–1957). Dior immediately hired the young designer and became his mentor. Then Dior suddenly died. At the age of twenty-one Saint Laurent was designated Dior's successor, becoming chief designer at the House of Dior.
Saint Laurent scored a major success with his first show, in which he presented what was dubbed the "trapeze" look. Trapeze skirts were flat-fronted and flared out from the waist in an almost triangular fashion. In 1960 he launched the elegant "Beat Look," spotlighting knit sleeves, turtlenecks, and black leather jackets bordered in fur. Two years later Saint Laurent left the House of Dior and opened his own fashion house. He soon became an expert at adapting his haute couture (high fashion) designs for average, middle-class, style-conscious women.
The 1960s found Saint Laurent offering additional innovative designs: the Mondrian dress (1965), which borrowed the geometrical shapes found in the paintings of Dutch artist Piet Mondrian (1872–1944); "le smoking," an androgynous, or gender-neutral, women's tuxedo/smoking jacket (1966); and the jumpsuit, a one-piece suit consisting of shirt and pants or shorts (1968). He designed pea coats, safari jackets, peasant blouses and dresses, and see-through blouses. He incorporated pop art into his designs, which during the 1960s was a trendy art style that included such familiar images as product packaging and newspaper comic strips. In 1966 he started a line of Rive Gauche ready-to-wear (off-the-rack versus custom-made) clothing, and he began designing menswear in 1974. Over the decades, the Yves Saint Laurent (or "YSL") name has been licensed to a range of products, including eyeglasses, bath and bed linens, furs, and perfume. He also was the first major designer to employ models of varied ethnic backgrounds.
From the late 1960s on, more and more women entered the workplace. To accommodate their needs, Saint Laurent designed work attire that included pants and blazers rather than skirts and dresses. These innovations were not immediately accepted. At first, the classic Saint Laurent pantsuit was not considered appropriate work-place apparel for women. Occasionally, women wearing them were turned away from fancier restaurants.
In 1983 the Museum of Modern Art in New York City presented an exhibit spotlighting a quarter-century of Saint Laurent's creations. It was the first time a still-active designer was so honored. In October 1998 Saint Laurent introduced his final ready-to-wear collection, and the following year he sold his business to Gucci. Saint Laurent announced his retirement in 2002. Yves Saint Laurent's life and career may be summed up by what is perhaps his most celebrated declaration: "Fashions fade, style is eternal."