Compared to many of the other French fashion houses, YSL is one of the newer ones on the scene - it was founded in 1961 by Yves Saint-Laurent and his partner, Pierre Berge. However, the journey to the incredibly successful and influential luxury brand that we know today was tougher than we realise - even with mentorship from one of the most successful fashion houses at the time. Here’s the long journey of how YSL came to be from Algeria to the world.
Yves Saint-Laurent: Algerian Beginnings
Not many people know this, but Yves Saint-Laurent was born in the city of Oran in Algeria to French parents - most assume he was born in Paris, a city well-known for its history of fashion. However, being born outside of mainland France didn’t hold Saint-Laurent back from achieving his dreams.
As a teen, he designed dresses for his mother and sister. His mum had an inkling that her son had the ability to do something even better than just create dresses for family, though. She was able to pull some strings and arrange a meeting with the editor-in-chief of French Vogue - something that would change Saint-Laurent’s life.
Michel de Brunhoff, French Vogue’s editor-in-chief, published Saint-Laurent’s design sketches and would introduce the young Saint-Laurent to his many high fashion connections. The one connection that would have the most impact was of an already well-established and successful French fashion house - the house of Christian Dior. However, before that could happen, Saint-Laurent needed some more training.
At de Brunhoff’s advice, Saint-Laurent enrolled in the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture - the organisation regulates and trains all its students for the French fashion industry. Unsurprisingly, Saint-Laurent graduated as a star pupil.
Right after graduating, Saint-Laurent entered a fashion design competition alongside still-unknown designers such as Karl Lagerfeld and won - the detail of his designs impressed de Brunhoff so much that he sent Saint-Laurent to Christian Dior, where he was hired on the spot - and his apprenticeship at Dior began.
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YSL and Dior
He was taken under Dior’s wing as a design assistant for many years and this went on to shape the future of the YSL brand. “I couldn't speak in front of him. He taught me the basis of my art. Whatever was to happen next, I never forgot the years I spent at his side,” was what Saint-Laurent had to say about Dior personally - despite what was to come.
Dior suddenly passed away in 1957, and at the young age of 21, Saint-Laurent became the head designer at Dior - he had big shoes to fill, but remained the head designer until 1960. That was the year that he was conscripted into the Algerian Military - the experience traumatized him, and by the time that Saint-Laurent returned to Paris, he found that he’d been replaced.
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Saint-Laurent successfully sued the house of Dior for breach of contract - he then went on to start his own eponymous fashion house in 1961 alongside Pierre Berge. What made the house of YSL so iconic was that Saint-Laurent popularised traditionally masculine styles for women.
The Le Smoking tuxedo suit for women in 1966 reset the fashion industry at the time and cemented YSL’s position as a designer with fresh, new ideas. Currently, the fashion house is known as simply “Saint Laurent” - however, the entire beauty range still retains the branding ‘YSL’.
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YSL first released a fragrance in 1964 starting with Y, a chypre perfume for women. This was followed closely by Saint Laurent Rive Gauche in 1971, and perhaps the most recognisable of the three, Opium in 1977.
In 1978, YSL Beauty was introduced to complement the fashion-forward designs that he offered - after all, the best accessories include a bold lipstick and a touch of fragrance, am I right?
The brand first focused on releasing bold reds and fuchsias - true to Saint-Laurent’s bold nature and complementing the fearlessness he captured in his fashion. Rouge Pur Lipstick No. 19 is actually still the company’s best selling lipstick, in a shade of attention-grabbing, yet contemporary blue-toned fuschia.
YSL Beauty was developed to perfectly fit with Saint-Laurent’s designs - he once said, “I wanted a face for the woman I dress,” and that’s still something that’s in the essence of YSL Beauty today. So, if a touch of bold lipstick is what you need to get your beauty affairs in order, YSL Beauty won't let you down.