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27th January 2002

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YSL bids adieu

By Joelle Diderich
Legendary designer Yves Saint Laurent bid adieu to fashion last Tuesday with a spectacular catwalk show that charted a glittering chapter in fashion history and reduced many loyal supporters to tears. Some of the most memorable looks of the 20th century flashed before the 2,000 guests gathered at the Pompidou Centre in Paris for the retrospective of a 40-year career during which Saint Laurent built one of the world's biggest fashion empires. An army of models paraded for one and a half hours in classics like the see-through blouse, the safari jacket and the women's tuxedo, which have won icon status and influenced countless other designers. Saint Laurent redefined women's wear with androgynous trouser suits that pre-empted the advent of feminism by almost a decade. 

"He's the man who loved women more than any other person in the world, he did so much for them,'' eccentric British designer Vivienne Westwood said after the show. Guests including screen divas Catherine Deneuve and Lauren Bacall roared with approval as models stepped out in eye-popping Pop Art dresses to the strains of the Beatles, recreating the frisson of the designer's ground-breaking 1960s designs. 

Models of all ages and races paraded in outfits gleaned from a seemingly bottomless treasure trove of ideas. Supermodel Naomi Campbell wore a jewel-encrusted jacket inspired by Van Gogh's sunflowers. Shimmering capes reflected Saint Laurent's huge appetite for music, literature and art. 

The Algerian-born designer was the first to send black models onto the catwalk and his designs betrayed a constant quest for exoticism, which influences from as far afield as Africa, Russia and China. Many in the audience wiped their eyes during the emotional finale to the show as Deneuve took the stage to sing a love song for Saint Laurent, who emerged for his final bow flanked by 60 models dressed in the tuxedos he christened "le smoking". Thousands of well-wishers packed the square outside the Pompidou Centre, where giant TV screens broadcast the show. 

Saint Laurent's retirement at 65 has unleashed a tide of emotion in France, where he is seen as a national treasure. It has also triggered a heated debate about the future of the rarefied world of haute couture, as opposed to the mass market business of ready-to-wear fashion. The famously reclusive designer said he was quitting in disgust at an industry ruled by commerce above art, in what the newspaper Le Monde described as a suicidal act of hara-kiri. 

"We live in a world of confusion and decadence. This battle for elegance and beauty was causing me a lot of sadness,'' Saint Laurent told the high-brow daily in an interview published as part of a special eight-page supplement on Tuesday. 

"Now, there is no haute couture. No house can reach the level of elegance.'' All the outfits featured in Tuesday's show are for sale the equivalent of allowing clients to go shopping in a museum. A flood of orders is expected to keep YSL's workshops buzzing until July, after which the house will close. Its perfume and ready-to-wear divisions will be unaffected, since they have been sold to the Italian luxury giant Gucci . 

However, predictions by the Saint Laurent camp that haute couture would die after his departure have irritated rival Paris designers. British designer Paul Smith said the loss-making business would probably continue, but in a different shape. "It's the end of a certain sort of couture,'' he told Reuters. "Couture for many houses is about many other things, about selling jewellery and fragrance, and about diffusion lines and image, which it always has been, but Saint Laurent was more than that. He was somebody who loved all aspects of his job.'' - Reuters 



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