Photo by Erica Nikolaidis

Though fashion isn’t typically covered on D*S, the artistry in Yves Saint Laurent’s sprawling 50-year career can’t be denied. Which is why the Denver Art Museum is hosting Yves Saint Laurent: The Retrospective to celebrate one of the fashion world’s most loved artists. Curated by author and fashion historian Florence Müller and designed by Nathalie Crinière, the exhibit is a true experience, revealing the layers of artists, celebrities and cultural influences that informed YSL’s work. — Erica

Read on after the jump for more details and images from the retrospective . . .

Photo by Erica Nikolaidis

“I do not think fashion is an art.”

As introductions go, this was an odd admission by Pierre Bergé, Yves Saint Laurent’s longtime business and romantic partner. Addressing members of the press in a preview of the sweeping Yves Saint Laurent Retrospective at the Denver Art Museum, a screen behind Bergé projected an image of a woman’s bare back wrapped in the iconic “Paris rose” satin bow, exaggerated against a sleek black velvet sheath dress. The look is at once exuberant and demure, like the fashion designer’s work.

“Perhaps I should not say that,” Bergé acknowledged. “But fashion needs an artist to exist and to be. And Yves Saint Laurent was an artist.”

The exhibition, which runs through July 8, 2012, at the Denver Art Museum, spans the museum’s entire second floor and features 200 haute couture garments, as well as films, photographs and drawings that capture the designer’s cultural and aesthetic inspirations. Bergé’s musings on the intersection of fashion and art are perhaps best realized in Nathalie Crinière’s exhibition design. From start to finish, the retrospective is suffused with low light, creating the effect of stepping inside the closet of a close (and extremely glamorous) personal friend.

Image above, left: Yves Saint Laurent, Belle de Jour dress, haute couture collection, Spring–Summer 1967. Barathea, black-and-white silk satin collar and cuffs. © Fondation Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent, Paris/Photo A. Guirkinger. Image above, right: Yves Saint Laurent, Short evening coat, haute couture collection, Spring–Summer 1971. Green fox fur. © Fondation Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent, Paris/Photo A. Guirkinger.

Each room follows the arc of YSL’s creative life and influences as seen in the familiar lines, curves and imagery of Matisse, Mondrian and Picasso, among others. For visitors, the retrospective is as tactile as you can get without being able to touch the pieces. The walls of one hallway are covered floor to ceiling in color-coordinated fabric swatches pulled from YSL’s desk drawers. Between these swatches, we see their transformation into evening gowns, a visual realization of a designer’s vision and execution. After experiencing the retrospective first-hand, there’s no questioning the overlapping spheres of fashion, art and design.

Images above: Van Gogh’s irises and sunflowers reimagined as embroidered jackets (photo by Erica Nikolaidis)
Image above: Yves Saint Laurent, Long evening dress, inspired by Henri Matisse, haute couture collection, Fall–Winter 1980. Black velvet and moiré faille, multicolored satin appliqué leaves. © Fondation Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent, Paris/Photo A. Guirkinger.

Image above: YSL’s Georges Braque-inspired “doves” wedding dress — the original “put a bird on it” (photo by Erica Nikolaidis)

Image above: YSL’s famous Mondrian shift dress (photo by Erica Nikolaidis)

Images above: The amazing hallway of floor-to-ceiling fabric swatches and their resulting dresses. (photo by Erica Nikolaidis)

Image above, left: Yves Saint Laurent, Long evening dress, “Paris” haute couture collection, Fall–Winter 1983. Black velvet sheath dress, “Paris rose” satin bow. © Fondation Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent, Paris/Photo A. Guirkinger. Image above, right: Yves Saint Laurent, Long evening ensemble, haute couture collection, Fall- Winter 1983. Domino coat in yellow faille de chine; velvet sheath dress with black lace. © Fondation Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent, Paris/Photo A. Guirkinger.

Photo by Erica Nikolaidis

Image above: Yves Saint Laurent for Dior, Short evening dress, “Trapeze” haute couture collection, Spring–Summer 1958, Valse (Waltz) design. White silver-sequined tulle. © Fondation Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent, Paris/Photo A. Guirkinger.

Image above: An intricate re-creation of YSL’s workspace layered with artful curios and inspiration boards. A film clip projected on an adjoining wall covers YSL’s early years at Christian Dior. (photo by Erica Nikolaidis)

Image above, left: A large room is devoted to variations on the fabulous Le Smoking women’s tuxedo suit. Right: Glamorous gold lamé (photos by Erica Nikolaidis)

Images above: The exhibit finale is “The Last Ball,” a decadent ballroom scene where very fancy mannequins mingle. (photo by Erica Nikolaidis)

Image above: Warhol’s YSL (photo by Erica Nikolaidis)

If you can’t make it to Denver for the retrospective, check out the lovely documentary L’Amour Fou, which chronicles YSL’s public and personal life as recounted by his longtime love and business partner, Pierre Bergé.

Carol Arrington

Would love to see the exhibit. I always admired him.


I went to this exhibit this past Friday in Denver. First and foremost, its shocking its in Denver (home of the bad footwear) It was absolutely breathtaking! I could have packed a lunch and stayed there all day. Truly breathtaking. He was so ahead of his time.


BOULDER is home to the awful Crocs. Not Denver! It’s an awesome city with a burgeoning art and fashion scene. The perfect place for YSL.


Wow. This is beautiful and magical. I think D*S should cover more museum exhibits, be if fashion, art or even ancient coins… loved this post!


This is easily the BEST thing that has happened to the fashion scene in Denver for a while. I should know, I live here.


Saw this opening day last month, and this post is a very welcome mini revisit. Thank you so much!


I hope this post means we’ll be seeing MORE apparel/fashion from a D*S POV!


Saw this exhibit last weekend. I could have spent a week in the hallway of fabric swatches; it was such a simple instillation with such incredible effect.


Magic! It’s remarkable how much impact Saint Laurent had on the fashions when I was younger. While I could never affort his label, many clothes in my closet echoed his designs. What a wonderful day spent in an incredibly beautiful exhibit!


Does anyone know if there is an exhibition catalogue available for purchase? I went to the museum web site and it appears they do not have an online store.


Lovely post! I appreciate the images as well, I live all the way across the country.

Jenne Rayburn

Thank you for this beautiful tour through the exhibition, its breathtaking! For a few minutes I found myself in a wonderful daydream. Thank you


get the catalogue at amazon.com. titles YSL – black cover with red, blue, yellow and white YSL logo. definitely worth it.

Farida shabane

He’s really the best and still he’s the king of fashion design, respect for Dior, and Chanel

Farida shabane

I love yves saint Laurent dresses, shoes , bags and of course my favorite perfumes : baby doll , Elle , cinema , rive gauche the blue one , and Paris what we can do without yves saint Laurent :)