Find Out How Morocco Influenced Yves Saint Laurent In An Exhibition In Portugal This Summer
Yves Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre Bergé first traveled to Marrakesh in 1966 and were met by an entire week of rain. But the day the sun came out, the couple fell head over heels in love with the city, immediately bought a house there and returned regularly over the years with their friends. Morocco became their home away from home and a creative sanctuary for Saint Laurent, the country where he would sketch designs for his upcoming collections before bringing them back to his studio in Paris. Stephan Janson, French fashion designer and friend of Saint Laurent and Bergé, speaks about how Marrakesh opened the trailblazing 20th-century couturier’s eyes to color and the “Love” exhibition running until October 30, 2022, which he co-curated at Palácio Duques de Cadaval in Évora, Portugal, alongside Mouna Mekouar and Alexandra de Cadaval.
You personally knew Yves Saint Laurent. What was the purpose of his first visit to Morocco in 1966?
Escape. He wanted to get out of Paris. He was born in Algeria, which has the same type of climate as Morocco. Clara Saint, who was a friend of his and worked with him, suggested he go to Marrakesh and he said, “OK, let’s go to Marrakesh.” It rained the whole time he and Pierre Bergé were there, and they loved it. They enjoyed it enormously and fell in love with the place. By the time they went back to Paris, they had bought a tiny, beautiful house, Dar el-Hanch, the House of the Snake.
Did this first visit already change Yves Saint Laurent’s vision of color?
Not that very first visit. During that visit, he was seduced by the Moroccans’ way of living, their rhythms and gestures. Then on the second visit, he was working on his collection and he told me, “The power and quality of the light in Morocco made me see colors in a different way.” So it was not only what he saw in the streets that seduced him, but also the quality of the light.
Tell me about his use of color as a raw material.
Starting to look at simple, everyday life, he told me once that he remembered going to the souk in Marrakesh. He was looking at these two ladies: one was wearing pale pink and the other one wearing lilac, and it was beautiful together. Then they met a friend who had a purple caftan, and he thought that was an interesting combination. Then they split and the woman in the purple caftan walked alone and she met another lady with a rust caftan. All of a sudden, it became like another color. The value of the colors changed according to what they were next to. That’s when he started looking at his work and using color as a raw material.
It was also about the reflections thanks to the sunlight…
Yes, the play of shadows and the sun. He was very sensitive to this. That’s when he discovered colors that before were not very interesting to him: all the colors of the earth, the sand and very natural tones that were enriched by sunlight. He said, “Before, I used to work with beige, and when I was in Morocco, I discovered that beige could be like 100 colors according to the shadow and the sun.” When he realized that he was good at color, he decided to become the best at it. That’s very much the way he was: he always wanted to be the best. When people started seeing a color combination once or twice, after that, for each collection, he thought he had to surprise them more, so he was really playing like an artist.
Why did the fashion industry consider Yves Saint Laurent to be a great colorist?
Because he created new color combinations that became classics, like pink and fuchsia and orange. Before, no one would put those colors together and, all of a sudden, it became a classic the moment he used it.
How were the influences of Morocco reflected in Yves Saint Laurent’s collections?
What was very interesting was that he took a lot from men’s dressing, like the tuxedo, pantsuit and pea coat, and also all the things he took from Morocco were from men, which very much surprised Moroccan ladies. He took from men’s clothes to make womenswear because Moroccan women’s clothes hid the body with caftans, round necks, big sleeves, robes going to the floor and not showing the body versus men’s clothes with sashes at the waist, areas where the garment was tight and the beautiful movement of their capes. For Westerners, no one knew it was from men in Morocco, but it’s mostly elements from men’s wardrobes that he made feminine. When he designed his men’s collection, it was fantastic because it was exactly the same as the women’s; he just changed the side of the buttons. You had the same jackets and shirts, and it was gender fluidity before it was even thought about. He was a pioneer in so many fields.
How did you choose the 14 Yves Saint Laurent ready-to-wear looks displayed in the “Love” exhibition in the Church of Saint John the Evangelist at Palácio Duques de Cadaval?
Luckily, Madison Cox, President of the Fondation Pierre Bergé – Yves Saint Laurent, gave me permission to mix seasons and years because I think the big strength of Yves Saint Laurent was to build a wardrobe, not just make a statement for one season, which he did every season. Every time, what he did remained as an important piece in a woman’s wardrobe. When I had finished my selection for the exhibition, I showed it to three women I know: one who has been a big Yves Saint Laurent fan all her life and two women who worked with Yves Saint Laurent for 20 years. I asked them what they thought of the mix of seasons. They said, “It’s the way we wear it.” So for me it was proof that this was reality and not just showing museum pieces.
What is the range of years of the garments that are exhibited?
The earliest is 1972 and the latest is 1992. The first look is very important because there is a beige wool cape from 1981, a silk tunic from 1974, a wool skirt from 1978, a beaded necklace from an unknown collection and a silk scarf from the ’80s. You put them together and it’s perfect. For look number 13, that’s a 1972 green wool cape, a wool dress from 1984 and a wool cap from 1976. I’m very thankful to Madison Cox because it has never been done before by the Fondation Pierre Bergé – Yves Saint Laurent. It has always presented clothes like in the fashion shows. Jacques Grange, who decorated several houses for Mr. Saint Laurent, said to me, “I remember this outfit, but I don’t remember it.” That’s because it was never an outfit. I explained to him that the pieces were from different collections, and he said it looked like it had always been like that. That was the idea.