“You’re just space, Yves!”: how Gagarin and abstract painting changed Saint Laurent Read more

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Fashion historian Milana Abieva continues her story about the influence of art on the development of fashion especially for the online magazine «Shipyards».

Fashion has always been a kind of reflection of the styles that dominated architecture and interiors and, of course, a mirror of social changes in society. However, the radical changes that took place in fashion in the twentieth century forced designers to completely rethink their approach to fashion. From the moment women got rid of corsets, emancipation and scientific and technological progress, society began to change radically, and with it the idea of ​​​​beauty.

Even the greatest couturiers with each new decade became more and more difficult to surprise their demanding clients. The variety of fashionable silhouettes has exhausted itself, the riot of decor, which once played a colossal role, has lost its relevance. New sources of inspiration came to the aid of designers, among which, of course, was art.

Following Elsa Schiaparelli, who became a real pioneer who inextricably linked the world of fashion and art, other couturiers began to draw inspiration from painting, and not only from it. Sometimes this inspiration was so clearly read in the created collections that it resembled a literal quote from this and that work. In fact, this is exactly what happened to one of the greatest designers of the twentieth century — Yves Saint Laurent.

“You're just space, Yves!”: how Gagarin and abstract painting changed Saint Laurent
Saint Laurent in his workshop and a painting by Piet Mondrian

Being extremely progressive in his desire to liberate a woman, Saint Laurent instantly «picked up» any changes in society related to female emancipation. Having opened his fashion house at the very beginning of the sixties, the young and promising Yves immediately began to create collections that took into account the undeniable influence of new subcultures. However, apart from the sexuality of the revolution that characterized the sixties, another major factor that had a tremendous impact on the fashion of the decade was the beginning of space exploration.

“You're just space, Yves!”: how Gagarin and abstract painting changed Saint Laurent
Jacket from the 1980s collection inspired by Piet Mondrian

The first flight of Yuri Gagarin into space stirred up society and became an occasion for interpretations of the space theme in interiors, architecture, art and, of course, in fashion. But unlike his colleagues André Courrège and Paco Rabant, Yves Saint Laurent, known for his innovative approach to everything, did not literally quote the space theme, creating plastic dresses and spacesuit hats. The far-sighted couturier was only provoked by the space theme to create something as new, but as much unknown as outer space.

In search of inspiration, Saint Laurent turned to the origins of abstract painting, namely the work of Piet Mondrian, who became one of its founders. And I didn’t guess. The Mondrian collection, created by the designer, has entered the history of fashion as one of the most successful and often copied.

“The work of Mondrian is absolute purity, you cannot achieve more in painting. The masterpiece of the twentieth century is Mondrian.” — Said Saint Laurent, admiring the purity of lines and colors that anticipated the space age. Drawing inspiration from a book about the great artist, given to him by his mother for Christmas, Saint Laurent created a collection that became a real hit.

“You're just space, Yves!”: how Gagarin and abstract painting changed Saint Laurent
Christian Louboutin sandals inspired by Piet Mondrian. Source: Christian Louboutin archives

Shown in 1965, the collection instantly gained fame as «revolutionary» and was an absolute success. Twenty-six of the one hundred and six models presented were inspired in one way or another by the work of Piet Mondrian. And the dresses with a laconic cut and a trapezoid silhouette, broadcasting the artist’s works, looked like a three-dimensional canvas that came to life.

Interestingly, Mondrian, who died in 1944, was not widely known in France. But after showing the cult collection of Yves Saint Laurent, interest in the artist increased instantly. And already in 1969, the first retrospective of the artist took place in Paris. Thus, we can confidently say that not only designers draw inspiration from art, but art also goes to the masses and gains popularity through interpretations in the field of fashion.

“You're just space, Yves!”: how Gagarin and abstract painting changed Saint Laurent
Dress from the 1965 collection

Years later, the Mondrian collection has repeatedly become a source of inspiration for other designers. Moreover, it was broadcast not only in clothing items — shoe designer Christian Louboutin even created shoes inspired by the artist’s canvases. Well, geometric color blocks have become a frequent technique in modern fashion, and many of us do not even think about the fact that it was Yves Saint Laurent who once laid the foundation for this trend.


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