Sunday, February 8, 2015

Yves Saint Laurent + Halston: Fashioning the 70s

On Thursday evening, we attended the opening reception for the Yves Saint Laurent + Halston: Fashioning the 70s at The Museum at FIT. The breadth and depth of the show, with 80 ensembles and 20 accessories from each designer thematically evoke the style of the dynamic decade. The exhibition celebrates the two designers who defined sexy and glamorous in the 1970s, equally representing both the French designer whose clothes were made in Paris and the American designer whose clothes were made right here in New York City.

The exhibition is staged in the downstairs gallery. Valerie snapped this shot of Jean on the landing in front of the signage for the show.

In turn, Jean shot Valerie (in a YSL hat for the occasion) in front of the door to the exhibit hall.

The show opens with St. Laurent's famous le smoking, said to be the pants suit that legitimized the wearing of pants by women.  Next to it is the St. Laurent version of the gangster suit.   The clothes weren't the only points of interest.  Previous owners of the garments were also named.  These suits were owned by Ethel Scull (gangster suit) and Tina Chow (le smoking).  Our younger readers will probably say "Ethel WHO?", so here's a link that will tell you more about her.   Maybe more of our readers are familiar with Tina Chow, but just in case, here's a link to her as well.  These two suits date to 1967 and 1982 respectively, but Chow's is an updated version of the original, which debuted in 1966.

St. Laurent was best known for his color combinations, such as in the 1976 black, fuchsia and teal satin, velvet and taffeta dress at right.  The black gown at the left is also his, falling more in the category of the stark le smoking.

The black gown was owned by one of his muses, Marina Schiano. If you're not familiar with her name, perhaps you are familiar with her profile … and her back (in another YSL creation).

Reflecting the prevailing trends of the period, this YSL dress dates to 1969.

The exhibition was designed to show where Saint Laurent and Halston converged and diverged.  These early Halston tie dyes in brilliant color (in the front) conform to the hippie aethetic of the period, around 1970.  (Pajama set on the left a gift of Lauren Bacall.)  The cape and matching dress in the back date to 1966.  That would have been a distinctly "mod" look.  For the quintessential mod look for women, watch Diana Rigg in a few episodes of The Avengers.  It was a complete rejection of the highly feminine look of the 1950s.

This Halston evening ensemble dates to 1981.  Here you can see some of the features that would characterize the '80s: bright colors, big shoulders, and the cinched and highlighted waist.

You should have a peek at the back of the blouse, too.

We can't help but stay with the red theme.  Here's Halston's appropriately named American Beauty Rose evening dress, with its vibrant rose color, and tender rose petals covering the breasts.  This dates to 1980.

The exhibition juxtaposes two revealing pieces by Halston (1976, left) and St. Laurent (1974, right).  Halston's jumpsuit is entirely minimalist.  St. Laurent's evening dress is also minimalist, but there is a touch of whimsy in the addition of the gold collar.

The show did not disappoint. To see selections from YSL's famous 1976-77 "Chinese" collection was a thrill. On the left is his 1977 multicolor printed silk suit and black velvet hat and on the right is his 1976 printed silk satin and wool ensemble.

Saint Laurent's black velvet coolie style hat is iconic and instantly recognizable.

Saint Laurent was famous for drawing inspiration from other cultures' national dress. His 1976 fur and felt hat from his Russian collection is emblematic of his approach. His accessories were all created "in-house" to complement his clothes, and hats were often an important focus of his collections.

Curated by Patricia Mears, Deputy Director for the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology (MFIT) and Emma McClendon, Assistant Curator of Costume at MFIT, the show compares and contrasts the two designers' styles, highlighting similarities and differences. Among the similarities are these two knit ensembles, with Halston's 1970 wool hooded cape and dress on the left and Saint Laurent's 1976 wool, velveteen and nylon hooded ensemble on the right.

These two items of evening wear also appear to be two sides of the same coin. Halston's 1981 blue and green beaded silk organza suit with obi belt is on the left and Saint Laurent's black and silver lame dress is on the right. Women wearing these outfits could easily be seated together at a banquet table or dancing side by side on the dance floor.

If Halston didn't invent "body con" fashion, then he certainly took it to its highest level of good taste. Here is a classic example of Halston's take on American sportswear: a cardigan twinset taken to its logical long, slim, sexy conclusion.

This trio of Halston evening dresses is a study in simplicity. The 1977 evening dress is of hammered silk as is the 1976 gold sarong dress and stole. The 1976 red silk crepe sarong dress takes it up a notch in color and slinkiness. His famous sarong dress is made from a single piece of fabric, spiraled around the body.

Jean's favorite dress in the exhibition is Halston's impossibly sexy 1974 white sequined polyester evening gown. Couldn't you just imagine Michelle Pfiefer slipping from that pale beige satin halter dress she made famous in "Scarface" into this gown and draping herself on a piano across from Jeff Bridges in "The Fabulous Baker Brothers"?

The Museum at FIT houses the Halston archives -- the most comprehensive records of his work in the world. These two modernist, architectural pieces, created nearly a decade apart, show the consistency of his vision and his obvious understanding of how to flatter the female anatomy. The navy silk jersey ensemble on the left from his 1972 collection works really well with his 1980 black cashmere dress.

Halston's accessories,which were an important element of his designs, were designed by his close collaborator, model and friend Elsa Peretti, also known for her minimalist esthetic. This sterling silver belt buckle was designed by Peretti for his 1971 collection.

On opening night, half of the fun is in the people watching.  Below is the Museum's director and chief curator, Valerie Steele in a necklace with a great tribal feel.

Fashion exhibitions are the perfect place for designers to draw kernels of inspiration from past masters to create something entirely new.  Below, designer Yeohlee Teng, also a minimalist. whom we admire not only for her talent, but also for her strong support of New York clothing manufacturing.

We also saw photographer Rose Hartman, a grande dame of people watching. Now, keep an eye on the wonderful contrasting black and white paneled St. Laurent pantsuit behind her.

Here are philanthropist Jean Shafiroff, photographer Ike Ude and milliner Gretchen Fenston.  Now compare the two photos. Notice any similarities?

Alyson Cafiero, a member of FIT's Couture Council, wore a contemporary YSL outfit to the gala.

Night life maven Susanne Bartsch never disappoints. She wore two thin black scaffold-like objects on her brow and cheek to accentuate her black hair, piled high and back.

Montgomery Frazier, aka The Image Guru, made an appearance at the show and seemed to thoroughly enjoy the event.

The gentleman at the left is wearing a St. Laurent vest (which seems to match Valerie's St. Laurent hat).  He and his ladyfriend probably look great in anything.

We chatted with these two young women at the exhibit after complimenting the lady on the left on her cat-print Alaia dress.

We met this very personable young man who has been designing clothes since he graduated from high school. Wish we could remember his name & hope he contacts us if he reads this.

What we're wearing!

Valerie is wearing a Saint Laurent hat, faux bone costume earrings, vintage linen Issey Miyake shirt, Chisato Tsumori circular knit coat, Blayde wool dress, Sigerson Morrison boots (or maybe nothing at all on her feet…)

Jean is wearing a black felted wool hat by Amy Downs, black jacket by Asiatica, brown crinkled pants and black crinkled handbag by Issey Miyake; Trippen boots; silver mid-century aluminum earrings; silver-plated safety pin bracelet from the 1980s and vintage bakelite and resin rings.


  1. These photos made me reconsider Halston--wonderful clothes!

  2. Great exhibit - I always liked seeing the slinky Halston gowns worn by people like Marisa Berenson in the 70's At the time it seemed like the epitome of "sexy" to me.
    Fun people watching at the opening; love Valerie Steele's necklace and the guy in the St. Laurent vest. Once again, I wish I could have been there.