Grand master of French fashion bows out quietly


The financial crises around the globe are taking an inevitable toll on fashion as much as on any other industry. In Paris this week, much talk has revolved around whether some big-spending - but not necessarily big-earning - designers will find their contracts terminated in the near future.

While many names are being mentioned for this fate, as yet they remain in the realm of speculation.

However, one certainty is that Yves Saint Laurent has now officially finished designing ready-to-wear collections, presenting his final show yesterday morning.

The designer celebrated his 40th anniversary this year, having shown his first solo couture collection in January 1958. He intends to continue personally looking after his couture clients.

Saint Laurent began offering ready-to-wear in September 1966 - coinciding with the opening of his first Rive Gauche boutique in Paris - and has until now done so biannually ever since.

Owned by the French company Sanofi, Saint Laurent ready-to-wear will continue to be produced but the designer responsible for future collections is Moroccan-born Alber Elbaz, employed for the past two years by the house of Guy Laroche.

Yesterday's show, therefore, was a distinctly poignant, end-of-an-era moment at which some 500 guests were invited to inspect Yves Saint Laurent's last collection for the label bearing his name. In many cases, the clothes were familiar from previous lines. At this stage of his career, Saint Laurent is no longer an innovator but the grand master of French fashion. Colour remained a feature of the collection.

A dove grey shirt-style jacket, for example, was shown with a pale lilac T-shirt and a pair of plum loose pants. But there were more single shade blocks than usual, such as a chocolate brown, silk crepe, sleeveless wrap-over dress with cummerbund-style waistband and a cream three-piece trouser suit with squared shoulders and flared legs.

Black remained the favourite throughout, whether for a belted leather knee-length coat with halter-neck crepe dress beneath or a pair of satin crepe trousers with silk drape-necked top.

Regular Saint Laurent leitmotifs included flak jackets and safari suits, cropped bolero jackets and lots of easy, generously cut and cuffed pants. Among the notable highlights were a full-length black cutaway coat lined in bright red satin and a number of Grecian draped and pleated dresses pulled in at the waist.

At the close of the show, the audience got ready to give Yves Saint Laurent a standing ovation but he failed to emerge. A spokeswoman said there was no particular reason why he had not appeared but it seemed a disappointingly low-key close to a career in ready-to-wear spanning 32 years.