By Marguerite A. Suozzi
April 30, 2012

On display at the Denver Art Museum (DAM) until July 8th is the first exhibition to provide a glimpse into the life and achievement of Yves Saint Laurent, one of the 20th-century's most celebrated fashion designers.

Though Saint Laurent died in 2008, he is still recognized as having revolutionized women’s fashion by bringing haute couture craftsmanship to the streets, and for transforming quintessential menswear pieces such as the tuxedo and trouser suit into elevated women’s garments. While his designs seemed shocking at the time, Saint Laurent created many of the styles and silhouettes that defined and continue to define contemporary women's style.

In Denver, the only North American venue hosting the exhibition, visitors have a chance to observe rare archival material courtesy of the Fondation Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent including photographs and sketches, film tracing the evolution of Saint Laurent’s work and, above all, two hundred haute couture and Rive Gauche ensembles created by the paradigm shifting couturier inspired by art, foreign cultures, books, and his own brilliant imagination.  

Some standout pieces include the Piet Mondrian cocktail dress (pictured below) crafted as a tribute to the influential abstract painter, and the black velvet and gold leaf embroidered Torero outfit (pictured above) worn by Paloma Picasso, a great admirer of the designer’s work. In total, the pieces represent nearly half a century of Saint Laurent’s legacy, spanning his early designs at Christian Dior (where he worked as the designer’s right hand and eventual successor) and a subsequent 40 years at his own fashion house located on the legendary Avenue Marceau in Paris.

Yves Henri Donat Mathieu-Saint-Laurent was born in 1936 to French expatriate parents in cosmopolitan Oran, Algeria. By age 13, Saint Laurent was pouring over fashion magazines such as Paris Match, Le Jardin des Modes and Vogue and reproducing model dresses for the imaginary fashion house “Yves Mathieu-Saint-Laurent Haute Couture, place Vendôme.” After winning third prize in a design competition held by Paris Match, the 18-year old Saint Laurent traveled to Paris where he began pursuing what would become an illustrious career in fashion.

Fun Fact: Despite his international background and early exposure to diverse cultures in North Africa, Saint Laurent was not a keen traveler, making an exception for trips to one of several houses in Marrakesh he owned with his partner in business and life Pierre Bergé. One of the properties, Jardin Marjorelle, named for its original resident, has since been transformed into a museum, which is open to the public and gives visitors a clear sense of the vibrant light and colors that came to influence Saint Laurent’s many collections. Today, it is one of the most visited sites in Morocco.

Marguerite A. Suozzi is an Assistant Research Editor at Travel + Leisure.