From Russian flowers to Persian pickles

This dress from the Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche line dates back to the early 1980’s. The cut of the waistline, flared skirt and cravat collar became the main silhouette at the end of the 1970’s and the early 1980’s.


This dress from the Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche line dates back to the early 1980s. The cut of the waistline, flared skirt and cravat collar became the main silhouette at the end of the 1970s and the early 1980s. Yves Saint Laurent continued to exploit this silhouette in his prêt-à-porter collections, the dresses varied in styles and fabrics but always showed print patterns ranging from Russian Pavlov-Posad flowers to Persian paisley pickles. Vic’s mother, played by Brigitte Fossey in the first ‘La boum’ film (1980), would wear a similar dress; and Katrin Denev wore a dress of a similar cut in the film ‘The Hunger’ (1983). It all started on July 26, 1976 in the InterСontinental hotel where the Fall-Winter 1976/77 haute-сouture collection was presented under the name "Opéra-Ballets Russes" (Russian Operas and Ballets).

Yves Saint Laurent, Fall-Winter 1976–1977

To be even more precise, it started approximately 6 months earlier, when Yves Saint Laurent, alone in his villa in Marrakesh, was fervently drawing sketches for his future collection, swapping alcohol for cocaine; and cocaine for amphetamines. This was Yves Saint Laurent’s dark period of the 1970s when he met Jacque de Bascher, an artistic dandy and socialite, who was the long-term partner of Karl Lagerfeld. Their romance was so destructive that almost crushed Yves Saint Laurent both physically and morally. It was in spring of 1976 when having run out of patience, Pierre Bergé left Yves Saint Laurent and never lived with him ever again. Thus the Saint Laurent's famous collection was created and it would become his last great collection, and one of the most important collections in 20th century's fashion. It was followed by a few fairly solid collections in a similar, sumptuous style like ‘Hommage à Picasso et Diaghilev’ (1979) or ‘Shakespeare and the Poets’ (1980), but those collections  were never as fierce or were praised to heavens like the “Russian” collection. Generally speaking, Yves Saint Laurent never achieved the same powerful impact on modern fashion ever again, neither in couture or street fashion, and the next 25 years turned into a long but inevitable decline.

Ив Сен-Лоран в Марракеше, 1970-е годы

Upon returning from Marrakesh, Yves Saint Laurent found himself in an American hospital in Neya suffering from severe neurosis and alcohol-and-drugs- related depression. His staff remembered the final fitting stage of the collection, when he would come from the hospital for a couple of hours in an irritable, weak and unstable condition in order to finalize everything and to prepare for the show. The show itself was memorable: for the first time it was held not in the halls of the fashion house like it always did but instead it was held in the InterСontinental hotel where all subsequent major YSL couture shows would take place, aside for the last one in 2002 which was held in the Center Pompidou. Yves Saint Laurent himself recalled in his legendary interview with Le Figaro that he signed himself out of the hospital against the doctors' advise, unplugged his IV line and was taken to the show; and right after the final bow, accompanied by wild applause of the audience, he got back in the car and was driven back to the hospital.

Лулу де ла Фалез и Ив Сен-Лоран, 1974 год

The Opéra-Ballets Russes collection reflects Yves Saint Laurent’s interest in Russian culture, especially in Lev Bakst’s costumes for Diaghilev’s "Russian Seasons"; and also shows the fairly good relationship between Saint Laurent, Berge with Lilya Brik in the mid 1970’s. Brik would frequently visit Paris and her younger sister Elsa Triolet; the wife of famous poet Luis Aragon; and Saint Laurent would create outfits for the sisters and send them to Moscow.

Yves Saint Laurent, Fall-Winter 1976–1977.

The "Russian" collection exploded like a bomb. After a few ascetic seasons where women's fashion was dominated by the monochromatic and masculine classics, all the colours of the rainbow have suddenly appeared: bright hues of precious stones, flower print patterns, folklore motifs; as well as luxurious volume, fur, embroidery, applique patterns and textured fabrics like velvet and brocade. This powerful impetus of ‘byzantine luxury’, as it was dubbed by the French press, would remain for many more seasons to come. In the 1980’s, almost all prêt-à-porter collections as if emanating from a distant star, featured velvet boleros, trimmed with galloons; coats with two rows of glittering buttons like on the Attila jackets of Hussars; short quilted mess-jackets made from printed calico; and dresses, like the one mentioned earlier, made from fabric with a decorative print, flowery or ethnic. No matter how far this fairly austere dress seems to be away from the beauty of the theatrical attire of the Opéra-Ballets Russes collection upon first glance, the ideas of these colours and folds on the skirt nonetheless originate from it.

Yves Saint Laurent, Fall-Winter 1976–1977.

These dresses, especially those made from thin crepe wool, will fit ideally into any wardrobe. They are best worn with jockey boots or military boots, or their hybrids such as the classical high boots by Ann Demeulemeester; but will also look perfect with any wide-bootlegged heels. Paired with sneakers they form a classical duet, that is still embraced by the street-fashion heroines despite of becoming a bit of a cliche. We have witnessed reincarnations of these dresses over several seasons, for example in the creations by Christophe Lemaire for last year’s Hermès winter collection, with folklore motifs, a cut off waistline and a free-flowing skirt. Authentic Yves Saint Laurent variants remain the best; the one and the only; they create a wonderful image.

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Author: Elena Stafyeva


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From Russian flowers to Persian pickles


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