Style & Grooming

Celebrating the Eternal Elegance of Yves Saint Laurent’s Personal Style

On what would have been the French designer’s birthday, we remember Saint Laurent’s timeless personal uniform

“The thought of style disappears in his presence,” wrote legendary American Vogue editor Diana Vreeland of Yves Saint Laurent, on the occasion of a 1983 retrospective of the designer’s work at The Met, which she organised. “It’s just there, it’s what he’s got – in himself, in his manner, his way of conducting business and friendship. Style is intuitive with him.”

Saint Laurent – in both his work, and the way he chose to dress – was a proponent of style, over fashion. Style, for him, was permanent and unshifting, while fashion was illusory, transient: “fashions pass, but style is eternal,” goes the designer’s most oft-quoted aphorism. Saint Laurent’s collections followed this raison d’être; his most memorable pieces are, in fact, his simplest – the trench coat, forever immortalised by Catherine Deneuve in Belle du Jour, the safari jacket, the tuxedo. “I wanted women to have the same basic wardrobe as a man. Blazer, trousers and suit. They’re so functional,” he once said. “Isn’t elegance forgetting what one is wearing?”

Saint Laurent knew those pieces so well because they made up his uniform, too: blazer, trousers, suit – he rarely wore anything else. Famously tall and willowy – “a thin, thin tall boy in a thin suit,” Vreeland described – Saint Laurent’s personal style was defined by simplicity, favouring slim-cut tailoring, in various iterations – a safari jacket, with matching pants; a wide-lapelled velvet suit; for evenings, the ‘le smoking’ tuxedo. He accessorised with typical flourish, from paisley-print neckerchiefs and spotted bow-ties, to his signature thick-rimmed glasses (and, often, a lit cigarette). He became his own best advertisement – sometimes literally, starring in several fragrance campaigns for the house, memorably posing naked for YSL Pour Homme in 1971.

If his chosen uniform while living and working in Paris was one of buttoned-up, bourgeois elegance – “he wore very tight jackets, like he was trying to keep himself buttoned up against the world,” lifelong partner Pierre Bergé has said – it was while in Marrakesh, Morocco where he owned a home, Villa Oasis, and would retreat often throughout his life, that the rules loosened. In the villa itself, the neighbouring Jardin Majorelle or among the city’s various riads and souks, exist photographs of Saint Laurent in what became popularised in the 1970s as the bohémien style: long cotton djelleba-style shirts, Berber-style scarfs, beaded necklaces, all likely familiar to the designer having spent his childhood in neighbouring Algeria.

And, decades on, it was this iteration of the designer’s personal style which Anthony Vaccarello recalled for his Spring/Summer 2020 menswear collection for Saint Laurent (since his passing the designer’s namesake house has been helmed by Stefano Pilati, Hedi Slimane, and now Vaccarello). Held on a beach in Los Angeles’ Malibu in June, Vaccarello said he was at once inspired by California and Marrakesh; a dark, decadent collection followed, with numerous ‘Saint Laurent-isms’, from pin-thin tailoring to richly embroidered Morocccan blouses, alongside various trench coats and tuxedo jackets in black and ivory satin.

It was a reminder of the enduring influence of Yves Saint Laurent – who would have celebrated his 83rd birthday today – and the innate elegance of his personal uniform. After all – fashions pass, but style is eternal.