Special Exhibitions Gallery
February 6 – April 18, 2015
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Yves Saint Laurent and Halston were the most famous and influential fashion designers
of the 1970s. Drawing inspiration from menswear, foreign cultures, and historical
periods, Saint Laurent and Halston crafted a new, chic, and modern way of dressing
that became synonymous with the sexy and glamorous lifestyle of the decade. While
they and their designs are recognizable to fashion enthusiasts and monographic books
and exhibitions on each designer abound, Yves Saint Laurent + Halston: Fashioning the 70s was the first exhibition to juxtapose and analyze their contributions to fashion
at the height of their careers, as well as how they came to exemplify this singular,
dynamic era in fashion history.
Drawn exclusively from the holdings of The Museum at FIT, the exhibition offered a
unique perspective on two of the best-known fashion designers in modern history. The
museums collections hold the Halston Archives—the most comprehensive records of his work in the world—as well as a vast array of significant Yves Saint Laurent pieces donated by important
clients, fashion editors, friends, and colleagues of Saint Laurent. These include
Lauren Bacall, Marina Schiano, Aime de Heeren, Mary Russell, and Tina Chow. It is
worth noting that the first major retrospective exhibition on Halston was organized
at the museum in 1991 by the late curator Richard Martin.
(left) Saint Laurent Rive Gauche, pajama set, printed silk crepe, c. 1970, France,
Museum Purchase; (right) Halston, pajama set, printed crepe de Chine, c.1976, USA, Gift of Ms. Gayle Osman.
(left) Halston, dress, printed knit cotton, c.1976, USA, Gift of Ms. Gayle Osman;
(right) Yves Saint Laurent, dress, printed silk chiffon, 1971, France, Gift of Lauren
The 1970s was a time of momentous change in fashion, not only in the look of clothes
but also in the way they were designed, made, distributed, and consumed. This dichotomous
decade—sandwiched between the counterculture 1960s and the opulent 1980s—witnessed the demise of haute couture's majestic reign and the simultaneous ascension
of designer-led conglomerates. The shifting sands of style during the 1970s accelerated
the relaxation of fashion codes. Eclectic individuality blended with a somber modernity
that mirrored the dour economic mood of the decades early years. Perhaps because the
1970s was a period of such transition and uncertainty, its fashions are among the
most challenging in modern fashion history to assess.
No two designers defined and dominated the decade more than Yves Saint Laurent and
Halston. They were the eras most influential and celebrated clothing creators, becoming
celebrities in their own right. Both have been the subject of countless books, articles,
films, and exhibitions. Yet for all the justifiable attention and study they have
received, the fashions created by Saint Laurent and Halston have not before been directly
compared in an in-depth, significant way.
Yves Saint Laurent + Halston investigates how Yves Saint Laurent and Halston arrived at their now iconic styles
by engaging with similar themes of menswear, exoticism, and historicism during the
1970s. While today they are considered diametrically opposed—Saint Laurent is viewed as the great colorist who imbued his clothes with a sense
of drama and fantasy, while Halston is seen as the eras master of modernism and minimalism—the aesthetic similarities between their designs during the 1970s, particularly at
the start of the decade, are undeniable.
As their styles matured, Saint Laurent and Halston gradually diverged so that by the
end of the decade, their respective output contained looks that were distinct to each
Halston, evening ensemble, purple cashmere, c. 1973, USA, Gift of Elizabeth Pickering
Yves Saint Laurent, evening dress, black, fuchsia and teal satin, velvet, and taffeta,
1976, France, Gift of Mrs. Edwin Hilson.
The entry room of the exhibition traces Saint Laurents and Halston's careers in a
dynamic illustrated timeline. Though very different in their output, the two shared
many career parallels, particularly their rises and falls, from the onset of their
careers in the 1950s to their respective struggles in the 1980s, which were eerily
The first section in the exhibition demonstrates how Saint Laurent and Halston drew
on menswear when creating clothing for women. After the debut of his Le Smoking woman's
tuxedo in 1966, Saint Laurent's experimentation with menswear reached a zenith in
the 1970s. He played on different archetypes including the pinstripe gangster suit,
safari jacket, and utilitarian jumpsuit throughout the decade to create looks that
have become synonymous with a Saint Laurent style. Likewise, menswear informed many
of Halston's best-known designs, including his most famous garment, the Ultrasuede
shirtwaist dress. These classic pieces included cashmere turtlenecks, matching cardigans,
Ultrasuede jackets, and trim trousers, which reflected Halston's own subtly unisex
Saint Laurent Rive Gauche, "safari" jacket, khaki, 1968, France, Gift of Mary Russell.
Halston, shirt dress, tan ultrasuede, 1972, USA, Gift of Mrs. Sidney Merians.
The second section explores each designers use of exoticism during this period. Yves
Saint Laurent's Russian- and Chinese-inspired collections of the late 1970s, both
of which are represented in the exhibition, were some of his most ornate and theatrical
creations. The sumptuous looks that comprised these collections were an exercise in
fashion fantasy that demonstrated Saint Laurent's interest in the decorative power
of the exotic. Halston, on the other hand, sought more subtle and substantive ways
to incorporate non-Western costume that would push the boundaries of his construction.
This resulted in garments such as his famous sarong dress made from a single piece
of fabric spiraled around the body. Despite these opposing approaches, the two often
arrived at similar incarnations of the exotic in the form of caftans and vibrantly
colored pajama sets.
The final section of the exhibition displays how Saint Laurent and Halston engaged
with past periods of fashion history. Historical pastiche was a significant part of
Saint Laurent's design strategy throughout his career. During the 1970s, he drew on
the trend for vintage dressing that was emerging on the streets of Paris to create
politically charged homages to 1940s fashions. He also pulled heavily from the fashions
of the Belle Époque in some of his most voluminous and feminine creations, complete
with petticoats and gigot sleeves. Halston took a different path, arrogating a limited
number of historical elements from a relatively narrow period in time, specifically
the 1930s and 1940s. A key source of inspiration for Halston came from the work of
Madeleine Vionnet and the cadre of women couturiers who dominated high fashion design
during the interwar years. Among Halston's hallmark 1970s designs were his reinterpretations
of streamlined and sinuous bias-cut gowns and separates.
Halston, evening caftan, red beaded nylon, c. 1977, USA, Gift of Frederick Supper.
Saint Laurent Rive Gauche, evening caftan, black rayon velvet and gold lam, 1976,
France, Gift of Paloma Picasso Accessories.
The exhibition also includes accessories designed to complement each designers clothing.
While Saint Laurent's accessories were created in-house and Halston's were designed
by his close collaborator, model, and friend Elsa Peretti, accessories were an important
element for both. Highlights include a hat from Saint Laurent's Russian-inspired collection
and a bone cuff by Elsa Peretti for Halston.
Saint Laurent Rive Gauche, smoking evening suit, black wool, satin, and off-white
silk crepe, c. 1982, France, Gift from The Estate of Tina Chow.
Halston, evening dress, sequined polyester, 1974, USA, Gift of Celanese.
Yves Saint Laurent + Halston: Fashioning the 70s was organized by Patricia Mears, deputy director of MFIT, and Emma McClendon, assistant
curator of MFIT, with Fred Dennis, senior curator of MFIT. The exhibition is accompanied
by a book, with essays by Mears, McClendon, and Dennis, and published by Yale University Press.
This exhibition has been made possible thanks to the generosity of the Couture Council
and the New York State Council on the Arts.