Witness Yves Saint Laurent’s iconic style up close in Richmond

Featuring 105 curated garments, this will be the YSL exhibit’s only stop in the U.S. before returning to Paris.

Yves Saint Laurent
Photo by Aaron Royce

Yves Saint Laurent’s revolutionary style, which has blurred the lines between fashion and art since the designer’s start in the ’50s, is currently on display in an exhibit at Richmond’s Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, and YSL fans—not just in Virginia but across the country—will want to flock to the show, as it will be its only American stop before returning to France.

Yves Saint Laurent: The Perfection of Style is only being shown at the VMFA this summer before ultimately going back to the Yves Saint Laurent Pierre Berge Fondation in Paris, which worked with the VMFA to curate the exhibit. The foundation is currently transitioning to the Musee Yves Saint Laurent, and as a result, it will discontinue its traveling Saint Laurent exhibits.

The YSL exhibit came “ready-made” from the foundation, says Barry Shifman, VMFA’s curator of decorative arts. It was designed by Florence Muller, the curator of textile and fashion at the Denver Art Museum. The show contains 105 garments mainly drawn from the Yves Saint Laurent foundation.

Because it’s the foundation’s last international YSL exhibit, it’s decidedly different. It’s also significant for the VMFA as the museum’s second-ever fashion exhibit. “We’ve only had one costume show, called Hollywood Costume, in our history,” Shifman says. “We wanted a fashion exhibit, so it made sense to have an important one. Saint Laurent is one of the finest ever in the world.”

Yves Saint Laurent
Photo by Aaron Royce

Saint Laurent’s accomplishments and cultural importance are evident in the exhibit’s select garments, sketches, videos, magazines and photographs documenting his entire career. “Today, fashion is so important, and Saint Laurent was revolutionary in his ideas and pushing the envelope with his designs,” says Shifman, noting Saint Laurent was the first to do pret-a-porter (ready-to-wear garments). “It shows the full range of his life, as an artist and a world-class fashion designer.”

A wide range of garments and related materials—such as the Explosion of Color gallery’s massive costume jewelry and the Alchemy of Style gallery, which focuses on Saint Laurent’s process for creating a single garment, beaded garments and fabric and hat designs—is what Shifman believes will draw visitors to the show. “Not only is it beautiful, but it’s so contemporary,” he says. “There are so many beautiful garments for every taste.”

Yves Saint Laurent
Photo by Aaron Royce

The exhibit contains YSL garments from the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s. Some are especially avant garde, like a multicolored wedding dress or a transparent dress with a feather waist. Some you can easily visualize people wearing today, like a sequined sweater or embossed leather jacket.

Shapes and silhouettes like shorter skirts, bustier tops and women’s suiting—the first time a designer used men’s styles to fit women—show the range of Saint Laurent’s work and his influence on the clothes we wear today. Coupled with the history documented in Saint Laurent’s sketches, collection boards, his teenage paper dolls and Andy Warhol portrait, the exhibit is both stylish and timeless.

Yves Saint Laurent: The Perfection of Style will be at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond until Aug. 27. Tickets, which are available online, are $22 for adults, $18 for seniors and $10 for ages 7-17 and college students. Children and VMFA members can enter for free.

Yves Saint Laurent
Photo by Aaron Royce
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