Editor’s Note: With Kristin Holbrook of Two Skirts on vacation for two weeks, Fashion Friday was on hold until April 27 – that is until Ivar Zeile of Denver’s PLUS Gallery weighed in about the YSL Retrospective, currently on display at the Denver Art Museum. According to Ivar, the show is not just for fashionistas. It is for anyone interested in a personality that helped shape the look of the 20th century. The exclusivity of the exhibition also reinforces Denver’s increasing importance on the art map much in the way Telluride’s upcoming summer festival season keeps our little town dead center of the cultural map.
The Denver Art Museum has certainly built a solid reputation for singular, world-class contemporary exhibitions since opening the Libeskind-designed Hamilton Wing a few years back. Uber-contemporary exhibitions such as Embrace, Blink and last year’s Marvelous Mud – Clay without Limits have conspired to showcase the curatorial merits of current director Christoph Heinrich and his staff, as well as the assets of the permanent collection and even more so, the significant contribution that local artists play in the field today. But the region simply can’t support a menu consisting solely of cutting-edge art exhibitions: for every Blink there must be a King Tut appease the masses. However, traveling shows don’t always resonate as being particularly special…That is, until now.
With this tribute to Yves Saint Laurent, the Denver Art Museum has pulled off a feat that stands as one of its most impressive achievements to date, garnering more clout for the city’s newfound claim as a world-caliber art-destination than anything in recent memory – at least outside of last year’s opening of the Clyfford Still Museum.
Yves Saint Laurent: The Retrospective or YSL for short, is the toast of the town as DAM is the only museum in the U.S. to be exhibiting this historic and distinctive exhibition. One can hardly think about the show without assuming a French accent and donning a pants suit, nor can one really imagine why such a show didn’t end up in one of the upper-tier metropolitan cities in the country. Doubtful it was for a lack of desire. Heinrich seized the opportunity while visiting the show in its previous European incarnations. Now the exhibition is being touted with the headline “Paris. Madrid. Denver” to make sure we all – and the rest of the country – know how seriously exclusive YSL is.
The gala preview was certainly a night to remember and the requested “Black-tie” attire was a fitting choice for those lucky enough to be invited. The dress code was also a cue for Florence Müller, the Chief Curator of YSL, to don a vibrantly colorful, tres chic, tres French outfit. And the lady stood out out like a wondrous peacock amidst the sea of largely conservative styles in the house that night. Though Müller certainly received warranted attention from an appreciative audience, it was Pierre Bergé, Yves’ lifelong partner and head of the YSL foundation, whose presence left everyone in awe. Berge’s presence made the whole affair seem super-real.
Last week, I returned to the Saint Laurent retrospective with my wife Karen to take a much closer look. (The gala opening was a great party, but I was certain we had missed so much because of the crowd.)
During an interview with Müller prior to the opening, I heard that Yves had always dreamed one day his career efforts would be shown in a museum context, and so he kept all of the original designs that were featured on the runway. The early moments of the exhibition give the greatest sense of Yves’s historic relevance: the designer wasn’t just out to make women’s clothes. He aimed to carry the tide of the times and to cause something of a revolution that would spill over from the fashion world into the larger world.
By today’s standards, much of the early Saint Laurent comes across as conservative, but his designs and approach actually changed the entire course of dress and what was acceptable for women to wear in public, at work or on the streets. As we follow his career through the show, we see Yves branching out in different directions. The broader contexts he was allowed to explore were in part the result of the man’s overwhelming success, largely based on the friendships of women of note and celebrities in general, all of whom proudly filled their closets with his label. (Catherine Deneuve is the most notable among that crew. A portion of her closet is embedded in the show as a shrine to her passion for Saint Laurent.)
Though Yves was thought to be an habitual hermit, rarely traveling out into the world, he was profoundly moved by other cultures and ultimately influenced by the world of art. Some of his boldest and most striking outfits are intimately connected to the major artists.
It’s all quite beautiful to behold. But perhaps the exhibition’s greatest asset – and reason for coming to Denver – is the thoughtful way Yves’s clothes merge into the uncommon angles and corridors that one encounters at DAM. Without having seen the show in Paris or Madrid, one gets the sense that its current incarnation is possibly the show’s most stunning. The exhibition capitalizes so well on the unusual interior and volumes of the main exhibition space in the Hamilton Wing. Exhibition designer Nathalie Crinière no doubt was challenged and inspired to craft the collection for Denver’s digs, the result reading like an intricate labyrinth of seduction, Yves’s magnificent career blooming and coursing as each display of his work reveals itself to be more spectacular than the last. And the elaborate proceedings are charged with snippets of relevant video and other asides to the fashion itself, such as Saint Laurent’s fully-realized comic-book character, the less than innocent “La Vilaine Lulu.” As a traveling show, “YSL – The Retrospective” distinguishes itself from its antecedents, because it is a true collaboration with the institution that houses it.
If there’s one thing that an exhibition of this magnitude brings to any community, it is the ability to share a side of life, creativity, and art that is rarely offered in such settings. The day we toured, it was great to see so many youth-groups experiencing what is undoubtedly a mature exhibition, alongside the general public.
There is little doubt the Saint Laurent show has the potential to heighten and confirm the reality of today through a significant and fascinating exposure to the recent past. Schedule a visit to Denver and see for yourself anytime now through July 8th.