French fashion designer Yves Henri Donat Mathieu-Saint-Laurent was born in 1936 in French Algeria. At the age of 17, Saint Laurent moved to Paris and enrolled at the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture, where his designs quickly gained notice and he was shortly working for renowned designer Christian Dior.
In 1961, Yves St Laurent split from Dior, where he had been chief designer following the death of Christian Dior in the 1950s, and in January of that year showed his first collection under his own name.
He also opened 160 boutiques called ‘Rive Gauche’ and, although not particularly renowned for being an innovative designer, he was the first couturier to develop ready-to-wear clothes on a large scale.
St Laurent became most famous for what, in his day, would have been considered outrageous gender-bending outfits and sowing the seeds for power dressing for example, in the trouser suit and dinner jacket for women. He was also the first designer to effectively mix orange, pink and red, violet with yellow and black with brown.
His maverick skill at capturing the mood of the moment continued after the split with Dior and the beginning of his partnership with Pierre Bergé.
The first YSL tuxedo for women surfaced five years after he traded under his own name and the garment (from his autumn/winter collection) became a fashion landmark.
Admirers of YSL say his style epitomised cool chic, very much in the footsteps of another legendary designer, Coco Chanel, but upon his retirement in 2002, he was criticised for not keeping up with changing trends over the past two decades.
He sold the YSL brand to Gucci, owned by Francois Pinault, in 1999 and there have been recriminations ever since. When the YSL brand was sold to Gucci, St Laurent and Berge kept control of the fashion house which belongs to French tycoon Pinault.
The year before his split from fashion house Dior, YSL spent six weeks in hospital after a breakdown and, over the years, he binged on drink or drugs for long periods. Despite conquering his addictions he remained a heavy smoker.
Yves Saint Laurent was made a commander of the Legion of Honour by President Jacques Chirac. He died on 1 June 2008 of brain cancer at his residence in Paris. He was 71.