Denver Art Museum
100 W 14 Ave Pkwy
Denver, CO 80204
March 25, 2012-July 8, 2012
(visit website for hours, driving directions, parking options, free days, special events and summer kids classes)
Saint Laurent, a visionary artist who bcame a rock star in the fashion world, has a posthumous retrospective of a remarkable life and career.
Navigating from a Proust Ball through different time eras, ethnic influences and social mores to a Last Ball, this exhibit is magnificently staged for dramatic effect. Theatrically lit throughout, the elements of sumptuous craftsmanship and breathtaking originality are constant motifs throughout the show. Indeed, this exhibit is theater at its best.
Three simple dresses–black white and green– open the exhibit with a portrait of Marcel Proust–a powerful influence on Saint Laurent- which hovers like a ghost next to the frocks. Proust probably would have enjojyed the ball at the Chateau de Ferrieres with such guests as Liz and Dick, Audrey Hepburn and Princess Grace. Saint Laurent’s dresses matched the ball’s ambience of involuntary memories in a Proust novel.
Next, came the Gender Revolution. Pantsuits were quite scandalous in the late ’60s; society grande dames were kicked out of fancy restaurants. Now, Hillary Clinton has a wardrobe of vividly colored suits she wears to face off male leaders. But Saint Laurent blazed trails with navy blue pea coats with white pants, khaki suits, and black oilcloth trenches. Think Catherine Deneuve and Lauren Bacall with their bobs and cigarettes. Le Smoking Tuxedo was the signifier for women to enter into society on their own terms.
The imagination of Saint Laurent was fertile and extremely active and it is dazzling displayed in his Imaginary Journeys. Fashions created from the Ballet Russes with furs and Ottoman skirts, Spanish peacock blue boleros with ruby chiffon skirts, and from India, long coral dresses and sapphire blue jackets topped with a mini emerald green turban, making any peacock envious.
Continuing in the theme of theater and imagination is the homage Saint Laurent paid to artists. The famous Mondarin geometric dress comes to mind, but also Van Gogh and French sculptor Claude Lalanne. The exquisite detail in the Van Gogh jacket rivals the painter’s canvas, and the beauty of the sculpted dress in collobration with Madame LaLanne is stunning.
Throughout the show is the illustration of Saint Laurent’s genius for color. Pairing lettuce green with rasberry, or blending jade green with a topaz yellow, or just dramatic black, the colors were signature YSL.
Each stage of the show is a winner, beautifully staged and curated. As one enters the The Last Ball, nostalgia wraps the visitor like one of Saint Laurent’s capes. It was end of an era, the world of ball gowns and waltzes. The depth and detail of this final scene is based on the movie The Leopard, a favorite film of Saint Laurent. Painted in red and black scenery, a chiseled Burt Lancaster waltzes with a young woman. And, on descending stairs, are the beautiful ball gowns YSL created over the years. It is the perfect zenith to a wonderful show.
There is a interesting blog post from the DAM staff. Unpacking couture is akin to uncrating Egyptian antiquities: