From Fashion Label to Museum Institution Thesis
Yves Saint Laurent was one of the greatest fashion designers of the 20th century. Together with his partner, Pierre Berg, they founded the YSL Haute Couture House. This research project focuses on analyzing the transformation of YSL from a fashion house to a museum. The path that the institution has taken from a brand to a cultural institution is unique. As soon as Saint Laurent retired from the fashion industry, he and his partner started organizing exhibitions to showcase the collection of his work. Thus it is clear that this institution will become the first museum dedicated solely to the work of a single artist in the country. The Ministry of Culture is now convinced that the institution has the required resources and capabilities to become the first museum primarily dedicated to the works of a single artist.
Background of the Study
Yves Saint Laurent haute couture house opened in 1974 on 5 Avenue Marceau after having moved from 30 bis rue Spontini, where it was founded in 1961 (Muller et al. 22). According to Granger, there were fashion houses at that time, and then there was Yves Saint Laurent fashion house (53). Yves realized that women were not given appropriate attention when it came to the field of fashion. As such, he set forth to invent designs that met their unique needs.
He dedicated close to thirty years of his life to his fashion house, coming up with different designs of womens clothing to meetand setmarket trends. He worked closely with other designers to shape womens fashion in the 20th century. Muller et al. state that YSL haute couture house became a symbol of savoir-fair and excellence because of the dedication and commitment that Yves and his team of experts had towards women fashion (32).
On January 7, 2002, Yves finally announced to the world that his career as a fashion designer had come to an end. It was the end of an era and of an illustrious career that ushered in design for women into the 21st century. Fifteen years later, Yves haute couture house is set to become a museum. Muse Yves Saint Laurent will open on October 3, 2017, in hotel Particulier at 5 Avenue Marceau in Paris, the same building where Yves spent the better part of his life-defining the trend in modern womens fashion (Muller et al. 41). It is interesting to investigate the path that was taken towards the authorization of this museum.
It will be the first museum of this magnitude to be dedicated specifically to the works of one of the greatest twentieth-century fashion designers. Paris is still seen as the global capital of fashion, and for one person to have a museum dedicated to his fashion work is considered a unique achievement. There were other successful fashion designers before and after Saint Laurent, but it is a museum dedicated to his work that is set to open in a few months. In this paper, the researcher seeks to investigate how Yves Saint Laurent haute couture house was transformed as an institution into the YSL museum.
Museums play a critical role in modern society. According to Mears and McClendon, museums promote the preservation of historic, cultural, and religious materials and objects and make them available for the present and future generations for educational and entertainment purposes (23). That is why the decision to open this fashion museum is considered so significant, especially in the city of Paris, which is regarded as the capital of fashion.
Yves Saint Laurent Museum is unique in that it specifically focuses on the works of Saint Laurent when he was the head of the YSL haute couture house. The same building where he operated his fashion house has been converted into a museum. Fraser-Cavassoni says that many fashion designers have praised the move, especially given the critical role that Saint Laurent played in defining modern-day womens fashion (55). However, the museum might bring about a competitive trend where admirers of other great fashion designers start demanding museums dedicated solely to other celebrated designers of past centuries.
Gabrielle Bonheur Coco Chanel, Pierre Cardin, and Hubert de Givenchy are some of the greatest names in the fashion industry. They made significant contributions in defining the designs that remain popular today among both men and women. The decision to establish the YSL museum may create unhealthy competition, however, if some designers choose the path of promoting only those fashion pioneers who influenced the designers current work. Such competition could be counter-productive.
In this study, the researcher will try to find out what safeguards the stakeholders involved in establishing the YSL museum have put in place to ensure that such unhealthy competition is eliminated. One of the most important decisions that these stakeholders made was to ensure that the museum is established within the same building where Saint Laurent worked. To many, the move may appear to be a deliberate attempt to preserve one of the few existing sites where womens fashion design was defined. In their view, the best way of doing that would be to bring back some of the works of the great fashion designer and present them to the public in the environment where they were created.
To justify their undertaking, the argument that these stakeholders will present to the public must be as convincing as possible. Establishing as many museums as possible would not be a problem as such, as any museum helps preserve our history. However, relevance remains critical when establishing a museum, as the city already has several museums where works of other great designers can be found. When any museum is established, it must serve a purpose, and so too must the YSL museum. This study will find a justification for this museums relevance and importance not only among French fashion designers but also for members of the public all over the world who hope to increase their understanding of the history of fashion design.
The decision to start a museum specifically dedicated to one of Frances finest fashion designers was a bold step seen by many as a suggestion that modern-day fashion designers still cherish the work of pioneers such as Yves Saint Laurent. Like many artists before and after him, Saint Laurent spent most of his life coming up with fashion wear, specifically for women. Among fashion designers, he was a pioneer in his understanding of the importance of focusing specifically on womens dresses. From an economic point of view, women generally spend more than men on clothing, which is also reflected in the frequency with which they buy new dresses (Lowit and Berg 75).
When compared to mens fashion, female fashion designs come in a much greater variety. Saint Laurent played a critical role in the 20th century, keeping fashion on the move by continuously coming up with new designs for women. His actions were founded on his economic sense that there was a ready market for new fashions as long as the new designs met the needs of his customers in the way that best suited them.
The design trends Saint Laurent started made him a successful designer, as the dresses remained fashionable for the better part of the 20th century. Modern-day fashion houses around the world have learned not only from his artistic works but also from his business acumen as well. These fashion houses are eager to bring new fashions to the market to keep customers returning to the shop. A museum specifically devoted to Saint Laurent is therefore important because he had such a massive impact on both the aesthetics and the economics of the modern-day fashion industry.
Research on Saint Laurent and the museum devoted to him is important in several ways. First, it will help to organize knowledge of the YSL museum that is set to open on October 3 this year. To members of the public, the YSL museum will be a center where they can learn about the origin of modern-day womens fashion and see the striking works of one of the countrys top designers. However, for art and design students and people with careers in design, the museum will be more than that.
According to Dreyfus, a career in design requires more than just creativity (45). It also requires both an ongoing drive to create and a continuous search for truly unique creations. A designer must think in a supernormal manner, always trying to please the target audience. He or she must always integrate beauty, functionality, and uniqueness in the work. Their products must be beautiful to the eye, distinct when compared with others, and capable of meeting the purpose for which it is created. Therefore artists need to drive, a sharp mind, and creativity. They must be astute enough to think of something new and create it in a meaningful way.
Yves Saint Laurent was such a person. He was sharp and creative, and he had a passion for womens fashion. Most modern-day fashion designers did not have the privilege of interacting physically and learning directly from him. For these people, the YSL museum will be a special place where they can experience Saint Laurents presence to some degree. Being in the same environment where Saint Laurent worked and seeing his sketches and other working documents will help these artists learn what was driving this top designer during his lifetime. This paper will offer a detailed history of the YSL museum. It will be a helpful guide to upcoming artists who will want to understand more about the YSL museum and how it was transformed from a fashion label to what it is today.
Research Aim and Objectives
YSL was once one of the greatest brands in womens fashion (Casati 63). In the mid and late 20th century, this brand was very popular among women. Its elegance, comfort, and ability to meet womens needs were unique. However, it was unfortunate that the brands vision could not be extended by a new head designer at the house when Yves Saint Laurent finally decided to quit the industry because of old age. However, his work still has an impact on modern-day fashion designers.
For this reason, the government responded enthusiastically to the decision to establish a museum specifically dedicated to his work. In this research project, the primary aim is to create an understanding of how YSL was transformed from one of the greatest labels in the womens fashion industry into a museum. This research project will explain some of the fundamental factors that made it necessary to establish the museum. It will also explain the relevance of this museum for members of the public and designers in the field of fashion. The following are some of the specific objectives that should be achieved by the end of the study:
To explain the relevance of the YSL museum in the context of Paris as the capital of the fashion industry.
To explain how the public and fashion designers will benefit from this museum.
To explain the reason why the relevant stakeholders decided to establish the museum in the same building where Saint Laurent worked as a fashion designer.
To identify factors that may affect operations of the YSL museum in the future.
Fashion design is a field that has attracted many scholars over the years as they try to understand the path that fashion is taking and appreciate the historic improvements made by several pioneer fashion designers. The work of these scholars is not redundant, however, as each study focuses on specific issues that are relevant to a specific research program. Dreyfus states that it is critical for a researcher to define specific questions that will guide the entire study (90).
These questions act as pointers towards the specific data that a researcher needs to gather in the field. Without a proper guide, one can easily stumble off course from a studys main focus. It is possible to collect irrelevant data that yield no sensible results. Such mistakes can be time-wasting and possibly result in having data that do not narrowly focus on the issue under investigation. That is why it was important for the researcher to come up with specific questions to help in the entire process of data collection. The following was the primary research question developed to guide the study:
How can a fashion label as an institution be transformed into a museum?
This research question was developed to guide this study. The following are the supporting questions that are also critical in meeting the objectives set out above.
What is the relevance of the YSL museum in the Parisian fashion context?
How will the public and fashion designers benefit from the museum?
Why did the relevant stakeholders decide to establish the museum in the same building where Saint Laurent worked as a fashion designer?
What are the factors that may affect YSL as a museum?
The researcher will use both primary and secondary data sources to answer the above questions. These questions formed the basis of the questionnaire that was developed for collecting data from sampled respondents knowledgeable on this topic.
Contribution to Knowledge
According to Fraser-Cavassoni, an academic research project, just like a professional research project prepared to investigate a specific issue, often aims to make public new knowledge on a given topic that may change the policies or actions of various stakeholders (44). Unfortunately, sometimes academic research is not often given the proper attention that it deserves when it comes to implementing its recommendations. Casati states that when conducting research, one of the primary principles that one must consider is how much knowledge already exists on the topic and what can be done to introduce new and relevant knowledge about it (36).
That is why a literature review, which comprises the next chapter in this paper, is critical. The review helps a researcher to understand what other scholars have previously discovered about the topic and what in their view needs more attention from future scholars. A literature review helps to outline the knowledge gap and to identify the specific area that one should focus on in a new study. Lowit and Berg state that a literature review helps to prevent the duplication of already existing information (75). A literature review is also the basis upon which the current study is based.
In recent years, fashion design has become an area of particular scholarly attention for historical research. This study will make a significant contribution to the field by focusing primarily on a museum dedicated to one of the greatest designers of recent times. It will help other scholars to understand the reasons that made it necessary to establish a museum devoted to a single designer.
They will find in this study the reasons why the building where Saint Laurent spent close to thirty years inventing new fashion designs was chosen to house the museum instead of another location. Through this study, scholars will understand how they can use the YSL museum to enhance their skills and creativity in the field of art. When they use this material before or after visiting the museum, they will learn what was driving Saint Laurent when he set out to design something unique. In Saint Laurents work, they will find a pattern for how they can monitor current trends and then come up with something unique in the design industry.
This document will also be important to scholars outside the field of fashion and design. It provides a detailed analysis of the methodology used in collecting and analyzing data, as discussed in chapter 3. Young scholars will understand what is expected of them when conducting research and what they can do to ensure that they retrieve the key information from both secondary and primary sources. The analysis section will also provide them with an example of how to analyze data they collect in the field. The last chapter of this paper, the conclusion, and recommendation will also help future scholars to understand how they can use the information they collect from various sources to come to a specific conclusion and make recommendations.
This chapter will focus on a review of existing literature. It is true that the YSL museum is a new institution and is yet to receive substantial attention from scholars. However, the works of Yves Saint Laurent as a professional fashion designer have attracted the attention of many scholars across the world. Reviewing the existing literature will help shed light on the path an haute couture house took in its transformation into a modern-day museum.
History of YSL Haute Couture Career
Yves Henry Mathieu-Saint Laurent was a French fashion designer born on August 1, 1936, in French Algeria (Mears and McClendon 34). He developed a keen interest in design at a very early age. As a teenager, he started designing unique dresses for his sisters and his mother. Saint Laurent then moved to France when he was aged 17, where he enrolled at the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture for a course in fashion design (Golbin and Legendre 23).
There he met Christian Dior, who had a significant impact on his career in fashion design. Saint Laurent started his career at the House of Dior, where he was hired because of his unique design skills. He rose through the ranks and became one of the top designers at the House of Dior. When Dior died of a heart attack in Italy in 1957, Saint Laurent found himself the head of the House of Dior at the tender age of 21 years. However, the young designer faced a new challenge, as this institution was experiencing serious financial problems. He used his talent to come up with new designs, which he referred to as Diors New Look.
Fortunately, the new designs received massive acceptance not only in France but also internationally, especially in Europe and North America. They catapulted him to international stardom as a womens fashion designer. According to Ascoli et al., Marcel Boussac, who was the head of the House of Dior and a powerful figure in the political arena in France, influenced the governments decision to send Saint Laurent back to Algeria as a soldier during the Algerian War of Independence (27).
This was after it became apparent that Saint Laurent was not doing enough to make the House of Dior as successful as the owner had anticipated. He was immediately replaced by another designer as soon as he was conscripted to serve in the military (Golbin and Legendre 34). He served in the French military in Algeria for 20 days before he was admitted to a military hospital because of stress from hazing. His condition worsened when he realized that he had been fired from Dior as soon as he had enlisted in the military.
Yves Saint Laurent (YSL) was founded in 1961 after Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre Berg convinced Mack Robinson, an American millionaire, to fund the project (Cassati 32). The move offered Saint Laurent an opportunity to advance his career at an institution where he had the liberty to make decisions without restrictions. The firm popularized safari jackets for men and women, the beatnik look, tight trousers, thin high boots, and the famous tuxedo suit for women (Golbin and Legendre 78). A report by these scholars shows that Saint Laurent soon became a major driving force in global fashion design.
He even introduced ready to wear dresses as the demand for his designs continued to increase. The decision was made because of a desire to increase the market share for his products in the European market. The ready to wear dresses were less expensive compared with those designed for specific individuals. Saint Laurent considered this move to be a democratization of fashion by making it available not just to the wealthy, but also to middle-class customers with limited budgets. He became the first French fashion designer to come up with a full ready-to-wear line of clothing at a time when most of the top designers focused on direct orders from top international clients (Mears and McClendon 23).
Yves Saint Laurent Haute Couture House moved to 5 Avenue Marceau in 1974. At the time, Saint Laurent was regarded as a member of Frances jet set, as he had become very successful in the fashion industry. He had become very popular not only with his customers but also with the press (Fraser-Cavassoni 58). In the 1980s, his career was negatively impacted by the heavy use of alcohol and cocaine. However, it did not stop him from continuing to invent new designs. Ascoli et al. (29) report that the Metropolitan Museum of Art gave Saint Laurent a solo exhibition, the first living fashion designer to receive such an honor.
On January 7, 2002, Saint Laurent decided to end his illustrious career in fashion design, which at that point had lasted for over 40 years, because of age (Golbin and Legendre 36). Despite the decision, YSL remained a very popular brand and line of clothing, especially among the women for whom Saint Laurent had designed clothing for so many years. Because of his desire to pass on his skills to a new generation, Saint Laurent and Pierre Berg renovated the building that had long housed YSL haute couture and established the Foundation Pierre Berg-Yves Saint Laurent (Beyfus 43). After battling brain cancer for years, Saint Laurent died on June 1, 2008 in Paris.
Stages of the Evolution of YSL Haute Couture into a Global Foundation
Yves Saint Laurent Haute Couture House, as discussed in the section above, was founded in 1974 as a fashion house. After many years of successful operation, Saint Laurent decided to retire as a fashion designer. However, he was committed to ensuring that the new generation could learn from his works so that his protgs could help take fashion to the next level. That is when Saint Laurent and his life partner Pierre Berg decided to establish a global foundation known as La Foundation Pierre Berg-Yves Saint Laurent. The evolution of YSL Haute Couture House into a global foundation took place in various stages.
The first stage was the transformation of the space at 5 Avenue Marceau (Mears and McClendon 61). Space had been used as a fashion design house for years, but the time had come for it to be transformed into an exhibition center. The decision by the Metropolitan Museum of Art to dedicate an exhibition to the works of Saint Laurent is believed to be one of the leading reasons why Saint Laurent and Pierre Berg decided to transform their fashion house into an exhibition center as soon as Saint Laurent decided to bring his career in fashion design to an end.
As such, the first task was to transform the fashion house space into an exhibition space that local and international visitors could visit, and where they could see the place where Saint Laurent spent close to thirty years defining modern fashion and view some of the works created by Saint Laurent that remain influential. The following figure 1 shows the building that housed YSL Haute Couture House.
Fig. 1. 5 Avenue Marceau (Flaviano and Freschard 9).
When Satin Laurent was working at YSL Haute Couture House at 5 Avenue Marceau, most of his works were stored at La Villette, especially most of the sketches and designs prepared between 1997 and the time when he decided to retire. However, the works had to be transferred to a special storage facility at the former ateliers of 5 Avenue Marceau. This was the second stage of the transformation of this former fashion house into an exhibition center. The managers had to find a way of making available all the works of Saint Laurent at the facility so that scholars and those with an interest in fashion would have access to them when they visited. The next stage was the transformation of the salons that were used to receive visitors at the fashion house into exhibition spaces for the public.
According to Ascoli et al., this was not an easy decision to make, given that there was a desire by some of the stakeholders to avoid making significant changes to the interior of the house (32). They argued that it was necessary to retain the internal space as it had previously been so that visitors could understand the kind of environment where Saint Laurent used to work. However, others argued that retaining the house in its original form was impossible given that it was to be transformed from a fashion house into an exhibition space.
The building had originally been designed as a place where Saint Laurent and his team could work on orders received from their customers that could offer them a comfortable workspace whenever they were there. The same design would not be suitable for an exhibition space where people walkabout to view the works of one of the top fashion designers of the 21st century. As such, the decision to transform the space prevailed. Figures 2 and 3 below show the house before and after the structural changes:
The interior of 5 Avenue Marceau before restructuring.
Fig. 2. The interior of 5 Avenue Marceau before restructuring (Flaviano and Freschard 28)
The 5 Avenue Marceau after restructuring.
Fig. 3. The 5 Avenue Marceau after restructuring (Fraser-Cavassoni 78).
However, it was agreed that the transformation should be made in such a way that it would still be possible to explain to visitors the original design of the house when it was the central working space for Saint Laurent and his team. For example, although the salons were transformed into an exhibition space for the public, it was done in such a way that it was easy to show visitors where the salons had been, what purpose they had served, and the reason why space had to be restructured to accommodate the new function. Initially, the sponsors of the new project had not taken into consideration the need to expand the facility beyond what it had been when it operated as a fashion house.
The guiding idea was that visitors would be guided around the facility in small groups so that they could see the sketches and works of Saint Laurent from his earliest days to the most successful designs that put him on the global map.
For this reason, the initial design of the exhibition house focused on the movement of the visitors and the ability to display the design works to them. The preparatory sketches, various drawings, and objects related to ready to wear clothing and haute couture that formed the works of Saint Laurent were made available at the exhibition house. According to Flaviano and Freschard, the organization devoted their exhibition to photography, decorative arts, paintings, contemporary work, fashion, and works of Saint Laurent that were developed within YSL house and those that were developed while he was working at other fashion houses in the country (28).
After the structural work, the organization started organizing a series of exhibitions, to be held in the transformed space, dedicated to fashion, art, and design (Mears and McClendon 78). Yves Saint Laurent, Dialogue Avec part, which was held from March 10th to October 31st 2004 was one of the most successful initial exhibitions at the facility (Ascoli et al. 35). Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Berg were the curators for this event while Nathalie Criniere and Jacques Grange were the set designers. It attracted visitors from Tokyo, Sydney, Saint-Petersburg, Moscow, and New York as well as local Paris residents.
This was the beginning of a series of successful exhibitions that was organized by the YSL museum. However, it was the only major exhibition that was organized while Saint Laurent was still alive. He oversaw several smaller exhibitions that attracted local visitors and artists in the years before his death in 2008.
The Auction of the 21st Century
According to Golbin and Legendre, the works of Saint Laurent have featured in several auctions in the 21st century (42). Saint Laurent and Berg worked together to assemble one of the worlds most important art collections, which they stored at their villa, with some pieces displayed at 5 Avenue Marceau where Saint Laurent had worked. All these were pieces of art that had been meaningful to Saint Laurent, and they defined his artwork in the field of fashion.
When they decided to convert the fashion house into an exhibition center, these art collections became part of what was presented to visitors. However, most of these pieces of art were sold off at the February 2009 auction at the Grand Palais that was organized by Christie. Berg argued that the collection was meaningful to both Saint Laurent and Berg as a couple and that following Saint Laurents death, they had become less meaningful to Berg.
It is important to note that most of the items sold were created by other artists but were collected by Saint Laurent and Berg specifically because Saint Laurent greatly admired these works of art. He once stated that these collections of artworks were part of his motivation as a fashion designer (Mears and McClendon 90). Some scholars argue that the decision to auction the collections was a deliberate attempt by Berg to eliminate artwork that was created by other artists from 5 Avenue Marceau.
At the time the collection was sold off at the grand auction, plans were already underway to transform 5 Avenue Marceau into an exhibition house exclusively showcasing the works of Saint Laurent. However, the foundation still had in its possession several artworks by other artists. Some of them were kept in the house while others were stored in the villa. When an opportunity was presented to Berg to eliminate other designers work from the house, he seized it and sold off most of them, promising to channel the proceeds to a new foundation for AIDS research (Flaviano and Freschard 31).
That proved to be an effective strategy for starting to clear the house of other artists work to ensure that it remained a space exclusively for Saint Laurents work. The auction of 2009 was such a massive financial success that Saint Laurent was rated the the same year (Ascoli et al. 36). It is not yet clear whether or not the foundation followed through on its promise to donate all the earnings from the auction to AIDS research. However, scholars note that the investment made in renovating and improving the YSL exhibition house soon after the auction shows that it is possible Berg reinvested part of the earnings into their foundation.
According to Golbin and Legendre, Saint-Laurent was an avid reader (55). He inspired his best friend Berg to write several books. Some of these books include Inventaire Mitterrand in 1991, Les jours sen vont je demeure in 2003, LAlbum Cocteau in 2006, Lettres Yves in 2010, and Yves Saint Laurent: Une passion marocaine in 2010. Together with Saint Laurent, Berg had a library of over 1,600 books of various editions, ranging from the fifteenth to the twentieth century.
A number of these books were on fashion design, while others were on other topics such as economics and business. In the 2009 auction organized by Berg, these books were not sold. However, that was not the case in 2015. The auction of 2015 saw Berg sell the entire library, as he stated that it only held sad memories for him following the loss of his best friend (Ascoli et al. 41). However, in this particular auction, Berg was keen to ensure that none of Saint Laurents artwork was sold off. In the 21st century, it was only in 2009, and 2010 that a collection directly related to Saint Laurent was sold.
Temporary Exhibition at the Foundation
According to Ascoli et al., the first temporary thematic exhibition, LAsie rve Yves Saint Laurent has been scheduled to last from October 2018 to January 2019 (44). Before looking at this scheduled temporary exhibition, it is important to look at some of the exhibitions that were organized before and soon after the death of Saint Laurent before the decision to transform the house into a museum. Ascoli et al. state that before the exhibition house was finally closed to the public in 2016, the Pierre Berg-Yves Saint Laurent foundation had presented more than 20 exhibitions devoted to fashion, art, and design at the 5 Avenue Marceau location (47).
On March 10, 2004, the foundation was officially opened to the members of the public for the first time. Known as Yves Saint Laurent, Dialogue Avec later, this exhibition presented works that had been done by Saint Laurent from the beginning of his career until the time he made his final decision to retire from the field of fashion design. The set for the foundation that year was designed by Nathaniel Criniere, who became a close associate of the Foundation Pierre Berg-Yves Saint Laurent (Ascoli et al. 49). The exhibition was a huge success and it attracted several professionals in the industry.
The foundation has organized a series that to this point includes several exhibitions. Some of the notable ones include Vanit. Mort, que me veux-tu and David Hockney: Fleurs fraches, both in 2010, Du ct de in 2012, and Hedi Slimane, Sonic in 2014 (Mears and McClendon 73). All of these exhibitions were dedicated to the works of Saint Laurent. Other notable exhibitions include La collection du scandal and Jacques Doucet Yves Saint Laurent, Vivre pour lart in 2015.