Vive La Rive Gauche
Last year’s giant Yves Saint Laurent retrospective at Paris’ Petit Palais drew raves, but many missed seeing a recap of Rive Gauche, the designer’s ready-to-wear collection, which was the first foray of a French couturier into mass-produced clothes when it launched in 1966. Ask and you shall receive. The designer’s longtime partner, Pierre Bergé, pulled together an exhibition devoted exclusively to Rive Gauche at the Fondation YSL-Pierre Bergé, housed at the Avenue Marceau space where YSL spent most of his career.
Saint Laurent: Rive Gauche, La Révolution de la Mode, which opens today, is curated by Bergé and artistic-directed by YSL’s former right-hand muse, Loulou de la Falaise Klossowski, and features 60 of the designer’s iconic ready-to-wear pieces set in a re-creation of the label’s first boutique, which opened in 1966 at 21 Rue de Tournon on Paris’ Left Bank. “I want to be the Prisunic”—that is, chain store—”of fashion and make clothes that everyone can wear, not just rich women,” the young, white-coated YSL says in an interview of the period that opens the show. Inside, as a backdrop to the clothes, is shop designer Isabelle Hebey’s burnt orange carpeting and aluminum fixtures, Djinn benches by Olivier Mourgue, Japanese lanterns by Isamu Noguchi, and a life-sized wall painting of Saint Laurent by Eduardo Arroyo. YSL’s biggest hits from the sixties and seventies, like the classic navy caban and the lace-up safari tunic (the one worn by his great friend Betty Catroux in a photo from the London Rive Gauche store’s opening day in 1969, which covers the exhibition’s catalog), still look amazingly fresh, set against racks of bright floral dresses. So do the glass cases of Plexiglas parrot pins, rhinestone necklaces, and stacks of hammered metal bracelets, all synonymous with the Rive Gauche look.
“The tricky thing about doing this show was to find multiple editions of the same style and make themes,” said de la Falaise Klossowski. “The shop had to look real. If we’d combined lots of diverse pieces, it would have seemed like a sale.” It was a tough job, but de la Falaise Klossowski, who joined the house officially in 1972, says she’s used to those. “We’d been friends since 1968, and when I went to work for him no one used the word muse,” she remembered. “I thought muses were there to lounge about and look beautiful, so I used to laugh when people started to call me [one]—it was such hard work.”