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De Young shows retrospective of Yves Saint Laurent

You’ve probably heard of Yves Saint Laurent. The brand YSL and its recognizable slanty font is a staple of high-end ready-to-wear clothing, makeup and fragrance. The exhibition at San Francisco’s de Young Museum isn’t about the brand, however-it’s about the man behind the name.

Yves Saint Laurent was born in French département Algeria in 1936 and he made his way through the fashion industry fast. At 17, he was working for Christian Dior in Paris and by 21 was the head fashion designer of House of Dior. He opened his own couture house when he was 25.

Over the next 40-some years, Saint Laurent made many innovations in fashion including the safari jacket, the women’s tuxedo, and making ready-to-wear as chic and stylish as possible, as well as being the first French haute couturier to release a full line. He died of brain cancer in June 2008, likely prompting this traveling exhibition and adding a poignant finality to the collection featured at the museum.

This exhibit has something for everyone If you love fashion, obviously you should go for the fashion. In fact, why haven’t you gone already? Along with a stunning retrospective of his clothing since the 1960s – over 130 accessorized pieces – there are videos of his runway shows, some of his original sketches, complete with cloth samples sneaking over the matting and statements from him about fashion, art, and life.

Similarly, for the shopping aficionado, the de Young has really pumped up its museum store selection with prints, books, and accessories worthy of Saint Laurent’s taste.

For you art snobs who think fashion shouldn’t be in a museum, go for his tributes to famous modern artists: pieces Mondrian, Matisse, Van Gough and Picasso have been made into stunning ensemble representations. There is also a sweet photo of Saint Laurent and his cat taken by Andy Warhol at the beginning of the show, which nicely connects his work to the artistic community throughout his influential lifetime.

Feminists, we have Saint Laurent to thank for creating and popularizing the women’s pantsuit and making women more equal with men in the workplace while still keeping a personal style. Pierre Bergé, former chairman of the YSL couture house, wrote in the exhbition catalogue, “By appropriating male apparel and enabling women to wear it, Saint Laurent transferred the attributes of power from one sex to the other.”

For social activists, look at his work and enormous success while remembering that he was gay – and, according to The New York Times, joined in a civil union to Bergé, his longtime business partner, a few days before his death. He was also the first designer to use black models in his runway shows and one of the first to use Asian and Pacific Islander models.

The de Young is this show’s only U.S. venue and is absolutely worth the $10 surcharge on your ticket. I promise that you have a reason to go, but if you hate it, the extra cash gets you access to all the other special exhibitions at the de Young. You’ll also be in the middle of beautiful Golden Gate Park and across the way from the newly reopened California Academy of Sciences: everyone will have a good time on this outing.

Helpful information:
– The show will be at the de Young until April 5, open Tues. – Sun. from 9:30 a.m. – 5:15 p.m.
– Tickets are$20 for adults, $16 students with college I.D.

Public transit:
-From Mills, take the shuttle to BART, buy ticket for $3.30
– Get off at Powell St. station.
– Walk to the corner of Powell and Market St. and wait for the Muni bus 5 going toward Cabrillo with $1.25 fare.
– Get on and get a transfer.
– Get off at Fulton St. and 8th Ave. You’ll see the entrance to Golden Gate Park at your left and peach apartment buildings at your right.
– Go into the Park – there are brown signs telling you how to get the museum.