Dhe preparations for this fashion show were a race against time. Yves Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre Bergé had only recently founded their new brand and found a flagship store on Rue Spontini in the elegant 16th district of Paris. The building still had to be renovated, the walls painted, the fabrics ordered, the collection drawn, the designs made, the logo designed. The two had hardly any money. And even worse: Yves Saint Laurent himself, only 25 years old, looked slim, immature, pale and ill in January 1962. The young star of Parisian fashion was a nervous wreck. How was he going to survive the tension and excitement?
Four years earlier, at the age of just 21, he had presented an acclaimed collection as the successor to Christian Dior, who had died young. But happiness at Dior was short-lived. Because the “petit prince de la mode” was called up for military service on September 1, 1960, soon had to go to the military hospital because of a “nervous depression” and was admitted to a psychiatric clinic Val-de-Grâce With electric shocks and sedatives sedated. At Dior, he was dismissed without further ado and replaced by Marc Bohan. “It was so awful,” recalls Victoire Doutreleau, the one-time Christian Dior star model who helped Saint Laurent and Bergé set up their own fashion house. “Yves in the military – it’s like putting a swan in a cage full of cats.”
Saint Laurent and Bergé sued the fashion house Dior for breach of contract and were awarded 680,000 francs in compensation. But that was far from enough to set up his own fashion brand. Pierre Bergé, who developed into a shrewd businessman, found an investor just in time: The American J. Mack Robinson, who had become rich with used cars and insurance, helped to build up the fashion house with a majority stake. It was sorely needed, because Saint Laurent was used to the most expensive fabrics from Dior. And like Dior, the flower arrangements and champagne alone for the show cost a fortune. Bergé had come up with another trick: Business customers like the buyers at the New York luxury department store Bergdorf Goodman had to pay $1,000 in advance to be let in; the ordered goods were then subsequently credited to it.
Expectations for the fashion debut on January 29, 1962 were larger than life. A long line formed at 30 Rue Spontini in the morning. Everyone came: the writer Françoise Sagan, the dancer Zizi Jeanmaire, the cosmetics magnate Helena Rubinstein, the boss of “Vogue Paris” Edmonde Charles-Roux. Also in the front row was Saint Laurent’s mother, Lucienne. The chairs were occupied to the last seat, and guests were also thronging the stairs when, shortly after 10:30 a.m., the first mannequin emerged: Victoire Doutreleau in a pink and green checkered suit, with make-up and pink lipstick by Helena Rubinstein. Applause.
Hidden in the closet
Today fashion shows are over after ten or twenty minutes at the latest. This parade with a whopping 104 looks lasted a whopping two hours – the guests still clapped and cheered at the end. Yves Saint Laurent had been looking through a small hole from the backstage area into the salon with the spectators the whole time. Now his employees had to push him forward. Zizi Jeanmaire hugged him and he burst into tears. The reliable Saint Laurent biographer Alice Rawsthorn writes that the shy fashion designer was so afraid of the crowd that he hid in a closet.
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