YSL & Warhol @ the de Young

Never in the 15 years that Golden Park has been my backyard do I remember the de Young Museum offering TWO shows that were of such great interest to me, and also so relevant to one another: Yves Saint Laurent, AND Warhol LIVE. (In 1972 Andy Warhol painted four portraits of Saint Laurent.) YSL is only showing for another month, so be sure to catch it before it closes.

YSL drawingYSL was a revelation for me. I had no prior knowledge that his initial intention and chosen path was to become a costume designer. However, Dior helped nudge him down the path of haute couture, and he became his apprentice, and then upon his too early death (at 52 years old, in ’57) found himself (at the age of 21) the head designer of the House of Dior. In 1964 YSL designed costumes for the theater including The Marriage of Figaro and Il Faut Passer par les Nuages (You Have to Go Via the Clouds) by the Renaud-Barrault Company, so he didn’t turn his back entirely on actual costume design, but it is by no means his greatest legacy.

The de Young exhibit is beautifully paced and displayed, as one would expect. Walking through the museum space is both like walking through the decades, as well as through exotic places. You can almost smell the spices of, and hear the sounds of an African setting, through the ’67 “Raffia” collection. I found myself gathering poise as I experienced more of the collection… as the bar for elegance is so high one begins to wish they were on the runway themselves (well, maybe not everyone, but at least this gay boy did).

AP Photo/Remy de la Mauviniere

AP Photo/Remy de la Mauviniere

As with any experience of fashion or art, favorites began to emerge. Pieces that spoke to me on that higher level. Ones that I wished to linger on longer, or marvel at the construction of even further. They included a ’65 Evening Cocktail Dress, after Serge Poliakoff (ie: see purple, red and charcoal dress in picture to right), an ’81 black Taffeta evening gown (crisp layers of all black fabric), and a ’67 Evening Ensemble with a suede tunic, bronze sequined knit sleeves and wool jersey (the sequins were otherworldly looking, almost like a modern chainmail, but still feminine). My tastes, at least for haute couture, are probably just right of center. I tend to like clean lines, and restraint. I’m sure this is due to my graphic design training, but also just personal leanings.

Out of the more flamboyant pieces, I most enjoyed the Picasso (triangular jester patterns) and Matisse (blue and white ruffles) inspired dresses.

Walking amongst his masterpieces at the de Young, the theatrical influence and inspiration were readily apparent. I dreamt of seeing operatic productions based on these creations, where they would serve as costumes. It would not be a stretch to craft from these collections productions of Turandot, Ariadne (ie: the Picasso dress noted above), Lulu, Les Pêcheurs de Perles, Don Giovanni (ie: the ’81 black Taffeta favorite noted above), Carmen, and more.

In the Imaginary Voyages section the de Young shared that he rejected the traditionally viewed and favored way for designers to gather their new inspiration: travel. Instead, he felt that images of the exotic and far lands, or experience of their art was enough for him. Perhaps his birthplace of Oran, Algeria offered even some exotic memories to draw upon. The Body Revealed section showed how YSL used cut-outs in the dress fabric to create new shapes and lines, and sensual peeks. The image used for the museum marketing features the most distinct of these, in the shape of a lyre.

Photo: Alexandre Guirkinger

Photo: Alexandre Guirkinger

And, yes, there were quite a few gawdy, garish, pieces which CJ imagined would be chided if they were seen on Project Runway today (even if you separated out the issue of changing taste of fashion through time). The Van Gogh sequined jackets (aka Alexis Carrington) were just one step away from your mom’s favorite Christmas sweater. Perfectly crafted, but overwrought.

“Nothing is more beautiful that a naked body. The most beautiful clothes that can dress a woman are the arms of the man she loves. But for those who haven’t had the fortune of finding this happiness, I am there.” — YSL (1983)

“He died on June 1, 2008 of brain cancer at his residence in Paris. According to The New York Times, a few days before he died, Saint Laurent and (Pierre) Bergé were joined in a same-sex civil union known as a ‘civil pact of solidarity’ in France.” — Wikipedia

Warhol LIVE:

Warhol’s worship of and effect on pop culture is well known, and still lives on. However, I was happy to discover his lesser known passion for opera and classical music, and his earlier work that directly dealt with those arts. In the ’50s he designed/illustrated covers for Opera News. In ’65 he attended the legendary Metropolitan Opera Norma, with Callas. He was a big fan of La Divina’s.

La Forza del DestinoThe de Young had an extensive, and broadly displayed collection of Warhol’s own LPs and tapes (pirate and studio). They included more popular fare like Judy Garland, Elvis, The Shangri-Las, and Rosalind Russell’s Wonderful Town, but also Price’s La Forza del Destino, Crespin’s Der Rosenkavalier, Callas’ Mexico City Traviata pirate, and more. And, of course he designed up to 50 record covers himself, for such artists as The Stones, Blondie, Aretha Franklin, etc.


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