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Born to insurance-company manager Charles Saint-Laurent and his socialite wife, Lucienne Mathieu, members of a family from Alsace-Lorraine that settled in North Africa during the Franco-Prussian War, Saint Laurent left home at the age of 17 to work for the designer Christian Dior. Following the death of Dior in 1957, Saint-Laurent at the age of 21 was put in charge of effort of saving the Dior house from financial ruin. Saint-Laurent's designs together, with his lover Pierre Berg's financial acumen, helped save the firm. The couple split romantically in 1976 but remained business partners.
Shortly after this success he was conscripted to serve in the French army during the Algerian war of independence. After 20 days the stress of being hazed by fellow soldiers led the fragile Saint Laurent to be institutionalized in a French mental hospital, where he underwent psychiatric treatment, including electroshock therapy, for a nervous breakdown.
The House of Yves Saint-Laurent
In the wake of his nervous breakdown, Saint Laurent was released from Dior and started his own label together with Pierre Berg with the now-famous initials of YSL. During the 1960s and 1970s the firm popularized fashion trends such as the beatnik look, tweed suits, tight pants and tall, thigh-high boots. Among his muses were Loulou de La Falaise, the daughter of a French marquis and an Anglo-Irish fashion model, Betty Catroux, the half-Brazilian daughter of an American diplomat and wife of a French decorator, and Catherine Deneuve, the iconic french actress.
In 1993, the Saint-Laurent
fashion house was sold to
the pharmaceuticals company
Sanofi for approximately
$600,000,000. In 1999
bought the YSL brand and
the ready-to-wear collection
while Saint-Laurent designed
Since his retirement in
1998 Saint-Laurent has become
increasingly reclusive and
has spent a much of his
time at his house in
In 2002, dogged by years of poor health, drug abuse, depression, alcoholism, criticisms of YSL designs, and problems with lead designer Tom Ford, Saint-Laurent and Gucci closed the illustrious couture house of YSL.
The pret-a-porter line is still being produced under the direction of Stefano Pilati after Tom Ford retired in 2004.
Learn more at the YSL web site.
Designer Definition (from U.S Department of Labor)
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