There were the tuxedo pants, pants topped by pea coats and safari jackets, pant suits. There were pockets, a utilitarian virtue. But there were also ornate evening gowns, barely there chiffon dresses and jackets inspired by artists of the times.
A retrospective of Saint Laurent’s work is showing at the Denver Art Museum through July 8, its only American stop. In two leisurely visits there, I was reminded not only of the French designer’s talents, but of the five lessons that politicians including President Obama and presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney could learn from his work.
Saint Laurent appreciated women. "Women’s beauty, freedom and strength were the sources of his vision of style and appeal,” writes former French first lady and model Carla Bruni-Sarkozy in a forward to the exhibition book. Indeed, the strength and freedom of women shouldn't be feared nor pandered to, but acknowledged and appreciated. "Saint Laurent always said that he gave women the tools, it was up to them to use them," Pierre Berge, the designer's longtime partner, said in an interview.
Saint Laurent valued diversity. He was among the first designers to employ black models. Many of his designs drew from influences beyond Western Europe, including Asia and Africa.
Saint Laurent favored the street over the elite. From leather jackets patterned on those worn by ’60s motorcyclists to the pea coats worn by sailors, Saint Laurent looked to real people for inspiration.
Saint Laurent took risks. He was fired by the House of Dior in 1960 but struck out on his own. His collections often created controversy, from the beatnik styles in the late 1950s to the 1940s-inspired line for spring 1971. Saint Laurent brushed off the criticism, because...
He thought long-term. Look at the 200 some designs spanning four decades in the Denver exhibit, and you could imagine seeing them on the street, in the office or on the red carpet today. The designer’s vision was built to last.
Sandra Fish teaches journalism at the University of Colorado and has reported on politics in Iowa, Florida and Colorado. Follow her on Twitter at @fishnette