Yves Saint Laurent + Halston: Fashioning the 70s

About this time last year, I was in New York City attending Fordham Law School's annual Fashion Law Symposium. I always try to see a fashion exhibit (or three) when I'm in New York. In the weeks preceding my visit I came across Fashion Institute and Technology's Yves Saint Laurent + Halston: Fashioning the 70s exhibit. Personally, the 1970's is my favorite fashion decade so my interest was already piqued. Since Saint Laurent and Halston were the most famous and influential fashion designers of that era, this show became a 'must see' for me.

The exhibit was organized by Patricia Mears, deputy director of MFIT and Emma McClendon, assistant curator of MFIT, with Fred Dennis, senior curator of MFIT. Simply put, the organizers saw a common thread between the two designers' work during the 70's. While different in both their aesthetic and construction techniques (as well as Saint Laurent living in Paris at the time while Halston was based in New York), it is often quite difficult to decipher which piece created in the 70's was the product of which designer. The curators felt its was because they drew from similar sources of inspiration.

Drawing inspiration from menswear, foreign cultures, and historical periods, Saint Laurent and Halston crafted a new, chic, and modern way of dressing that became synonymous with the sexy and glamorous lifestyle of the decade.
— The Museum at FIT

The curators argued seven distinct sources of inspiration were explored by both Saint Laurent and Halston in their 70's collections. As such, the clothes were assigned to whichever category they best exemplified. This made the act of comparing and contrasting each designers' style much easier for those attending the event. It essentially allowed the viewer to compare the pieces 'apples to apples.' The seven categories were: menswear, capes and shimmers, color, prints, exoticism, historicism and evening wear.

This exhibit was the first to analyze each designers' "...contributions to fashion at the height of their careers, as well as, how the designers came to exemplify this dynamic era in fashion history." Personally, I felt this was a very important (and beautiful) exhibit that I wanted to share with others. As a result, I divided my photos up into seven smaller posts as opposed to writing one, long mega-post. In the coming days, I will release a post a day that contains photographs and information about each category as well as some detailed information about the pieces themselves. I will follow the same grouping system as the curators.

I want to note that the vast majority of written information I will include in each post will be taken from what the curators themselves drafted. I attempted to paraphrase what was said, but frankly, it is better to hear the full analysis from the experts themselves. Thus, if you are using any of this information for reporting, please credit the authors where appropriate. While most of the photos are mine (and copyrighted), I did note when I used a photo from FIT's site so that too needs to be credited accordingly. To read more information about this collection, please head over to FIT's page for this exhibit. It contains much more information than what I cover and it can be viewed here. In addition, the curators wrote a book that contains photos of all the pieces from the exhibit as well as even more in-depth analysis on the topic. I highly recommend the book. I bought one myself and find it an invaluable source of information. It also has a timeline that was at the exhibit which traced Saint Laurent's and Halston's careers. I'm glad they did so because the designers "...shared many career parallels, particularly their rises and falls, from the onset of their careers in the 1950s to their respective struggles in the 1980s, which were eerily in sync.You can purchase the book on Amazon here.

Introduction and Background of the Exhibit

The 1970's was a time of momentous change in fashion, not only in the look of clothes but also in the way they were designed, made, distributed, and consumed. This dichotomous decade sandwiched between the counterculture 1960's and the opulent 1980's witnessed the demise of haute coutures majestic reign and the simultaneous ascension of designer-led conglomerates. The shifting sands of style during the 1970's accelerated the relaxation of fashion codes. Eclectic individuality blended with a somber modernity that mirrored the dour economic mood of the decades early years. Perhaps because the 1970's was a period of such transition and uncertainty, its fashions are among the most challenging in modern fashion history to assess.

No two designers defined and dominated the decade more than Yves Saint Laurent and Halston. They were the era's most influential and celebrated clothing creators, becoming celebrities in their own right. Both have been the subject of countless books, articles, films, and exhibitions. Yet for all the justifiable attention and study they have received, the fashions created by Saint Laurent and Halston have not before been directly compared in an in-depth, significant way. Yves Saint Laurent + Halston investigates how Saint Laurent and Halston arrived at their now iconic styles by engaging with similar themes of menswear, exoticism, and historicism during the 1970's.

While today they are considered diametrically opposed, Saint Laurent is viewed as the great colorist who imbued his clothes with a sense of drama and fantasy, while Halston is seen as the eras master of modernism and minimalism, the aesthetic similarities between their designs during the 1970’s, particularly at the start of the decade, are undeniable. As their styles matured, Saint Laurent and Halston gradually diverged so that by the end of the decade, their respective output contained looks that were distinct to each designer.
— The Museum at FIT