In June 1955, a young student of the Ecole de la Chamber Syndicale de la Haute Couture stepped into the gilded doors of a couture house at 30 Avenue Montaigne in Paris. There, the student met Monsieur Dior, then one of the masters of Haute Couture, who understood the incredible talent of this youngster, and decided to immediately hire him. This was the beginning of one of the most celebrated fashion collaborations, that between the master Christian Dior and young Yves Saint Laurent.
Sketch of an ensemble designed Yves Saint Laurent, author Constance Wibaut, Courtesy Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, All Rights Reserved
Yves Saint Laurent worked alongside Monsieur Dior for two years. The collections produced by the couture house were extensive - made up of more than two hundred designs. Saint Laurent was exposed to all the moments of the creation of a collection, from the early sketches, to the toiles developed by the premieres and the fittings, the important moment when the couturier could work directly on the dress in its trip-dimensional form, moulding it to his desires and ideas. The first task Saint Laurent performed was that of decorator of the boutiques, which in itself is a great school: he had to think about the woman dior was willing to dress and create the right atmosphere for clients to feel in the right place.
Saint Laurent soon went on to contribute directly to the design of the collections of the maison Dior, In 1957, Monsieur Dior said to Jacques Rouet: 'Yves Saint Laurent is young, but he is an immense talent. In my last collection, I consider him to be the father of thirty-four out of the 180 designs. I think the time has come to reveal it to the press. My prestige won’t suffer from it.'
Cocktail Dress by Dior, 1956. Courtesy MUDE - Museu do Design e da Moda, Colecção Francisco Capelo, photo Luis Ferrera, All Rights Reserved
On his side, Yves Saint Laurent declared that Christian Dior taught him ‘the essential’, what made other influences relevant and prolific. Reminiscence of his work at the maison Dior can be found in his subsequent collections, but maybe the strongest influence lays in the attitude to work that characterised Saint Laurent
The premature death of Monsieur Dior made Saint Laurent the ‘spiritual heir’ not only of a fashion house - YSL was at the artistic director of the maison for two years afterwards - but of an attitude, and of a certain idea of fashion that is relevant still today.