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Designer Dressed the Modern Woman

Yves Saint Laurent, 71, the French clothing designer who was an emperor of world fashion, and was credited with revolutionizing the way women looked and were looked upon, died Sunday, June 1, 2008, at his home in Paris.

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By Martin Weil
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 2, 2008

Yves Saint Laurent, 71, the French clothing designer who was an emperor of world fashion and was credited with revolutionizing the way women looked and were looked upon, died yesterday at his home in Paris.

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His ready-to-wear label had been sold years ago, and he had been retired for more than five years. A longtime friend said his death followed a long illness.

A hero in his country, a celebrity among the fashionable of the world, the bespectacled Saint Laurent made contributions to both couture and ready-to-wear that gave him the status of legend. The successor to Christian Dior, he was throughout the latter part of the 20th century a reigning eminence in his field -- trailblazer and trendsetter, iconoclast and icon.

Perhaps none of the celebrated designers of his time was more closely associated with the introduction and acceptance of trousers as business and formal attire for women.

He was closely associated with the introduction of the woman's tuxedo and the women's trouser suit.

Once considered mildly scandalous, pants for women have become commonplace at virtually all levels of contemporary life, from the office to the Oscars. Their symbolic meaning is inescapable, and much of it is traced directly to Saint Laurent.

"I wanted to put myself at women's disposal," he once said, "To serve them, to serve their bodies, their gestures, their life."

Working with pencil and paper, cloth, thread and scissors, Saint Laurent was credited with reflecting the social changes of his times in his clothing designs. At the same time that he depicted change, he also was described as helping to create it, with looks that suggested peasants and workers, ranchers and fishermen, beatniks and travelers who roamed the African veld.

His peacoats and safari jackets were widely known, followed over the years by such signature styles as trapeze dresses, with their narrow shoulders and wide hemline; the "chic beatnik" look, which featured turtlenecks; and cowboy-inspired jackets with squared shoulders and fringe.

For women who sought something more, he produced "le smoking," a feminine version of the tuxedo, as well as pinstripe suits, turbans, scarves, trench coats and the black leather jacket -- once seen as exclusive to men.

His costumes for Catherine Deneuve for the 1967 film "Belle de Jour" were regarded as landmarks.

After making a splash as a maverick and outsider, he grew increasingly conventional, fashion observers reported, and was a designer to the famous. He was favored, it was said, by such figures as Jacqueline Kennedy, Elizabeth Taylor and the former empress of Iran.


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