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The YSL Scandal in 1971 inspires fashion in 2022

By Ricky Toledo and Chito Vijandre, The Philippine STAR Published Nov 24, 2021 5:00 am

“Saint Laurent: Truly Hideous,” proclaimed the International Herald Tribune. “Nauseating,” said the Daily Telegraph. “Yves Saint Laurent Insults Fashion,” wrote the Las Vegas Review.

Who would think that a show by one of the world’s greatest designers in history actually elicited a wave of vitriol during the spring couture shows in 1971? Now known as the Scandal Collection, it was inspired by another fashion and art world celebrity: the jewelry designer Paloma Picasso, daughter of Pablo Picasso, one of the most influential artists of the 20th century.

Pierre Bergé, Saint Laurent’s life and business partner, related how they first met Paloma at a friend’s party where Yves wandered in and was later found “with an unknown young girl. She had wedge heels, a turban on her head, and things she had tinkered into clothes.”

Wearing ’40s finds from the flea market and bright red lipstick, Paloma was the antithesis to the polite bourgeoisie world that the couple inhabited. Couture clients at posh salons were not used to seeing vintage then — and red lipstick and nails? Leave that to the prostitutes! Truly mesmerized, Saint Laurent instantly made her his muse.

He just loved Paloma’s wild freedom and the masculine strength of ’40s silhouettes. Together with pointy lapels and polka dot dresses of the same wartime occupation period, the look was a fresh departure from the androgynous style that he made popular during the ’60s.

For his new collection, he took off from these ensembles and employed garish colors, swirls of sequins, clownish artificial flowers, turbans, platform heels, high-waisted trousers, plunging neckline chiffon dresses and Greco-Roman erotica.

They found it insensitive of the designer, who was considered the heir to the tradition of French haute couture at that, to make a fashion statement out of a painful period that many still remembered.

“It was the first time the word ‘kitsch’ was published in relation to fashion, an alternative to good taste that jostled the visual values of the time,” according to fashion historian Olivier Saillard. Its period reference as well as blatant sexuality brought unpleasant memories of the war, particularly the “horizontal collaborators” who slept with Nazis.

They found it insensitive of the designer, who was considered the heir to the tradition of French haute couture at that, to make a fashion statement out of a painful period that many still remembered.

Saint Laurent remained defiant, however, proclaiming that his collection was for “the young who don’t have memories. Haute couture secretes nothing but nostalgia and restrictions. Like an old woman. I don’t care if my pleated or draped dresses evoke the 1940s for cultivated fashion people. What’s important is that young girls who have never known this fashion want to wear them.”

And true enough, “he was embraced in the streets,” according to Saillard. It was a turning point for both the designer and couture. “He upended everything and made fashion fresh by borrowing elements from the past but mixing up everything like turbans with prints,” said Serge Carrera of YSL. All of a sudden, fashion moved toward the realm of spectacle.”

Saint Laurent SS2022 show at the Trócadero esplanade in front of the Eiffel Tower

It turned out to be a parallel moment when the house that the designer founded presented its spring/ summer 2020 collection recently at the Trocadéro esplanade with the Eiffel Tower in the background — a spectacular in-person comeback show after bowing out of the Paris Fashion Week calendar last year.

“For a long time now, I’ve wanted to represent this encounter between Paloma Picasso and Yves Saint Laurent, the importance of which is often underestimated in the couturier’s creative development. As a designer, I was particularly sensitive to this moment in which Saint Laurent stops making fashion and creates a style,” creative designer Anthony Vaccarello explained in his notes.

“She was really new for him. It changed his own style. In my mind, I want to have the same change after the pandemic.”

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Vaccarello doesn’t want to be bound by the borders of couture and traditional good taste. He insists on proper, meticulous cuts, however, spending months perfecting the proportions of the padded-shouldered jackets “to fix all those oversized versions that I’m tired of seeing on Instagram.”

While there was an emphasis on masculine shapes, the collection was still feminine, with jackets paired with column skirts or figure-hugging leggings. There were also cat suits with different cuts — draped, split, scalloped or shaped into a bustier — in solid colors and joyous florals.

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Accessories were not just ornamental but created tension to emphasize the silhouettes, from big sunglasses and vibrant gloves layered with chunky gold bangles to baroque crystal earrings. The clutch was the “it” bag, strategically tucked into the front waistband, as inspired by a photo of Paloma doing the same with a program during an opera gala.

It was done with insouciance and aristocratic swagger — the wild, free and empowered attitude that Vaccarello wanted to capture but tempered with the classic Saint Laurent elegance. In the same vein, he didn’t want the pieces to be overtly sexy, as seen on other runways this season.

“I hate the sexy I see. It looks like the sexy I did 10 years ago,” says the designer. “Everyone can do sexy, but for me it’s assuming what you are, not trying to seduce others. It’s being confident in what you are.”