Sunday, 18 October 2015

'Style is Eternal'

The charming northern town of Barnard Castle is a somewhat unlikely location to view high fashion, but the Bowes Museum has achieved a coup - in playing host to the first major retrospective of the late, great Yves Saint Laurent (1936-2008). On the outskirts of the picturesque County Durham town soars this grand château-style building, which would not look out of place in Paris, around the Belle Epoque. It was in the French capital that the 25 year old designer established his fashion house in 1965, prior to which he had gained fame as Christian Dior's successor in 1957. But back to the north of England - and Teesdale - where homage to the couturier can be found in just a few rooms of this fine museum which perfectly encapsulate what he said of his craft: "What has always come first to me is respect for a metier that is not quite an art, but which needs an artist in order to exist."
This exhibition is a thematic exploration of more than 40 creative years, with pieces aptly divided into Haute Couture, Masculin/Feminin, Transparence, Art, Spectaculaire and The Alchemy of Style. In each section, there are pieces which highlight YSL's extraordinary contribution to fashion: his compelling style, whether reinventing the suit (a typically male stronghold) for an YSL woman so that it becomes both restrained and sexy; an immaculate black silk jersey jumpsuit, which has something indefinably rock n' roll about it; a Chantilly lace-backed black dress from 1970; or literally flights of fancy - embroidered doves twinned on each shoulder of a royal blue sheath dress, and inspired by George Braque. I loved The Alchemy of Style section: a cluster of prototype pieces, with all the details etched upon cream calico. My absolute favourite: an orange silk satin cape from 1988 with a sun flanked by a pair of doves and embroidered by Lesage. Surely a piece you would never want to hide away in a wardrobe!
This marvellous show was worth every mile travelled from London. For comfort and ease, I wore a navy knit from Comme des Garçons and a pair of jeans by Stella McCartney, notable for the hook-and-eye detail running down to the calf. YSL wished that he had invented blue jeans. He noted that they have 'expression, modesty, sex appeal, simplicity- all I hope for in clothes'.
The exhibition runs until November 8, and is supported by the Fondation Pierre Bergé -Yves Saint Laurent.
Opened in 1892, Bowes Museum has arguably the best collection of European fine and decorative arts in the north of England including work by El Greco, Goya and Canaletto. It also has a signature piece, a charming 18th century silver automaton swan, which captures an audience every time it is set into action. The museum is open all year, save for three days: December 25 & 26 and January 1.

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