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A Farewell to Yves

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The announcement that this season's haute couture collection would be Yves Saint Laurent's last stirred up many emotions: nostalgia, sadness, and a bit of acquisition mania.

Yves Saint Laurent fans clogged the Concorde last week to watch their beloved take his final bow in Paris -- and to take advantage of their last chance to spend $20,000 on a pantsuit fitted by arguably the century's greatest designer. "I went to the Concorde, but I couldn't get on," said Nan Kempner. Not for lack of space, though. "They didn't have, oh, what is it? To breathe . . . ether?" Oxygen? "Yes, oxygen. Not enough oxygen. But everyone was on! Patrick McCarthy, Diane von Furstenberg . . . tons of Brazilians, too."

Kempner requested a personal oxygen supply and made the next flight. "Isn't it sad?" said Kempner of Saint Laurent's retirement at 65. "Total boo-hoo. All of my love and comfort blankets for 40 years have been Yves Saint Laurent." She consoled herself with thoughts of her full closets, but was eager to get to Paris and shop for more.

Helen Schifter, a young socialite on everyone's best-dressed list, was lucky to be making her first trip to the couture this season. "From my set, I'm one of the only ones," she explained by phone from her suite at the Ritz. "I'm going to see six shows, and I'm definitely going to go back to look at everything at 5, Avenue Marceau" -- the legendary YSL atelier where all orders are placed. But how to decide?

At the atelier, les petites mains were very busy. A couture show typically consists of 50 looks. Saint Laurent's final show, though, included 280 iconic styles from the archives -- le smoking, Mondrian shift dresses -- and only 20 new ones. But to the delight of the customers, they can order anything they missed the first time around. That Ballet Russe ball gown from 1976? That chic safari jacket from '68? Now's the time.

"Many of the dresses have material that has disappeared," warned one employee who, in the name of couture discretion, declined to give her name. "But if it's possible, we do it. Anything we have done before, we will do." The atelier anticipates that it will receive orders over the next four months. "They'll come tomorrow, they'll come next week. We have asked them all not to come together," she explained. "It would be too much."


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