Fenwick and The Bowes Museum present first major Yves Saint Laurent exhibition

An iconic black and white portrait from London’s Swinging Sixties shows the-then audacious young French designer, Yves Saint Laurent, and his equally boho-luxe muse, Betty Catroux (right), by Fenwick’s flagship Bond Street store writes Hilary Alexander. 

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Image Getty: Yves Saint Laurent at the Rive Gauche store opening with models Loulou de la Falaise (left) and Betty Catroux (right)

Both wear Saint Laurent’s much-imitated “safari chic”, in a shot which heralded the launch of the designer’s historic Rive Gauche ready-to-wear store opposite Fenwick Bond Street in the UK, in 1969. It was by chance that the photographer captured the Fenwick name in the backdrop, and yet few could have predicted that nearly half a century later the department store would be joining forces this year with The Bowes Museum in County Durham to sponsor an exhibition devoted to one of the most legendary designers of the 20th century. 

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The impressive Bowes Museum in County Durham

“Yves Saint Laurent: Style is Eternal” is the first-ever exhibition in the UK to present a comprehensive display of the designer’s work and life, being organised in partnership with the Fondation Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent, and will run from July 11th to October 25th, 2015. 

The ‘entente cordiale’ between the Fenwick group of stores and The Bowes Museum runs deep, as does their shared passion for French fashion, both being founded in the North of England during the latter part of the 19th century, around the time Charles Worth, from Bourne, in Lincolnshire, was laying the foundations of haute couture in Paris.

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Images courtesy of the Fondation Pierre Bergé - Yves Saint Laurent

Entreprenurial young Yorkshireman, John James Fenwick, established his first store in what was then a residential area of Newcastle, and in the 1950s created the “French Salon”, rather like today’s in-store boutiques, to cater for the rising demand for Parisian style and French designer labels.

Philanthropists John Bowes and his French wife Joséphine created the Bowes Museum in John’s home town of Barnard Castle, which counts a number of French designers among its permanent collection, alongside garments once worn by the Empress Eugénie.

Also in the collection are donations by the Fenwick family, including a pair of elaborately-decorated shoes, dating back to 1904, which belonged to the wife of the founder, Mrs J.J.Fenwick, and an unusual French marquetry hat, typical of cloches fashionable in the 1920s.

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Images courtesy of the Fondation Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent

“Yves Saint Laurent: Style is Eternal”, which takes its title from a famous quote by the designer - “Fashion fades, style is eternal” - will highlight the designer’s ground-breaking vision and his dramatic influence on fashion and the way we dress. Like Chanel before him, Yves Saint Laurent revolutionised womenswear, and defined the signature elements of the modern wardrobe, still relevant today: the pea-coat and trench-coat in 1962, the first tuxedo, ‘Le Smoking’, in 1966; the safari-jacket and trouser-suit in 1976, and the jumpsuit in 1968.

FEATURE IMAGE 1 Portrait of Yves Saint Laurent in 1964 Fondation Pierre Berge Yves Saint Laurent Maurice Hogenboom

Portrait of a young Yves Saint Laurent in 1964 by Maurice Hogenboom courtesy of the Fondation Pierre Bergé - Yves Saint Laurent

A selection of these iconic garments will be among the fifty garments featured in the exhibition, alongside pieces from his opulent ‘Russian’ haute couture collection of 1976, the block-coloured 1965 ‘Mondrian’ collection, and other couture creations inspired by the many artists Saint Laurent paid tribute to, including Diaghilev, Picasso, Matisse, Cocteau, Braque and Van Gogh. The exhibition will include sketches and photographs from Saint Laurent’s legendary 40-year career as one of the most creative and influential designers in fashion history.

FEATUR IMAGE 2 Marina Schiano wearing the short evening dress The Estate of Jeanloup Sieff

Marina Schiano wearing the short evening dress © The Estate of Jeanloup Sieff

In conjunction with the exhibition, there will be late evening openings, films, panel discussions and a collaboration with London’s Institut Français. Yves Saint Laurent’s lifelong partner and the guiding force behind the Fondation and his colossal archive, M. Pierre Bergé, will be guest of honour at a VIP private preview and dinner on July 9th to open the exhibition. Fenwick will create associated window displays in its Newcastle and York stores, as well as selling exhibition tickets and YSL merchandise in the Newcastle store.

Mark Fenwick, Chairman of Fenwick, says: “We are delighted to be instrumental in bringing this exhibition of the iconic fashion designer, Yves Saint Laurent to the UK. Yves Saint Laurent was hugely influential in the cultural revolution of the 60s and early 70s. The Bowes Museum is an inspired choice for this ground-breaking show.”

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Images courtesy of the Fondation Pierre Bergé - Yves Saint Laurent

M. Bergé, who established The Fondation Pierre Bergé - Yves Saint Laurent in 2004 in the former Yves Saint Laurent couture house at No. 5 Avenue Marceau, in Paris, said:

“The Bowes Museum is a natural destination given its exceptional work with fashion and textiles; while the museum and its location clearly reflect Yves Saint Laurent’s and my own passion for inspiring, timeless places. It is the perfect setting for us – a museum built as a French Chateau, in the age of the Second Empire.”

Joanna Hashagen, Fashion Curator at The Bowes Museum said: “We are thrilled to work, alongside the Fondation Pierre Bergé - Yves Saint Laurent on an innovative display that will introduce a dialogue between the designer’s body of work and The Bowes Museum’s collection. This certainly is a great moment in the history of The Bowes Museum, as well as for fashion display in the UK”.

FINAL IMAGE Wedding dress. Tribute to William Shakespeare Fondation Pierre Berge Yves Saint Laurent Alexandre Guirkinger

Wedding dress designed as a tribute to William Shakespeare ©Fondation Pierre Bergé – Yves Saint Laurent  

By Hilary Alexander