Yves Saint Laurent was born August 1, 1935 in Olan, Algeria. Considered a fashion designer prodigy, his first big break came early at the age of 17 when he won a contest for a cocktail dress design sponsored by the International Wool Secretariat. A year later he was introduced to Christian Dior who was so impressed with his exceptional talent that he hired him immediately. At the age of 21, Yves Saint Laurent was named the head of the House of Dior when Christian Dior died in 1957.
In 1960 he was drafted into the French Army during the Algerian War of Independence. Due to the stress of army life, he suffered from a nervous breakdown and was admitted into a French mental hospital, where he underwent psychiatric treatment, including electroshock therapy.
Later however, in 1962 Yves Saint Laurent opened his own fashion house, YSL, with his close friend and business partner Pierre Berge. In 1966 they also created the Rive Gauche boutiques for women.
Yves Saint Laurent is best know for revolutionizing the fashion industry by empowering and transforming women. He gave them the idea of wearing men’s clothing such as pants and suit jackets, and yet remaining feminine, sexy and elegant. The beatnik look, safari jackets, tight pants and tall boots, and the classic tuxedo suit for women were also some of the fashion trends that YSL made popular in the 1960’s-70’s. The Smoking Jacket of 1966 remains his trademark item and was updated yearly until he retired.
A pioneer in his day, he was the first to popularize ready-to-wear fashion and also the first designer to include black models in his runway shows. Pierre Berge, Yves Saint Laurent’s close friend and business partner of many years has said that Chanel gave women freedom and Yves Saint Laurent gave them power. Yves Saint Laurent died of brain cancer on June 1, 2008 in his Paris home. A few days before he died, Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé were joined in a same-sex civil union known as a "civil pact of solidarity" in France.
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