- The Washington Times - Monday, June 2, 2008

PARIS - Legendary designer Yves Saint Laurent, who reworked the rules of fashion by putting women into elegant pantsuits that came to define how modern women dressed, died Sunday evening at 71, a longtime friend and associate said.

Pierre Berge, Mr. Saint Laurent’s business partner for four decades, said he died at his Paris home after a long illness.

A towering figure of 20th-century fashion, Mr. Saint Laurent was widely considered the last of a generation that included Christian Dior and Coco Chanel and made Paris the fashion capital of the world, with the Rive Gauche, or Left Bank, as its elegant headquarters.

In the fast-changing world of haute couture, Mr. Saint Laurent was hailed as the most influential and enduring designer of his time. From the first YSL tuxedo and his trim pantsuits to see-through blouses, safari jackets and glamorous gowns, Mr. Saint Laurent created instant classics that remain stylish decades later.

“Chanel gave women freedom” in the first half of the 20th century and Mr. Saint Laurent “gave them power,” Mr. Berge said on France-Info radio.

“In this sense he was a libertarian, an anarchist and he threw bombs at the legs of society. That’s how he transformed society, and that’s how he transformed women,” Mr. Berge said.

When Mr. Saint Laurent announced his retirement in 2002 at 65 and the closure of the Paris-based haute couture house that he had founded 40 years earlier, it was mourned in the fashion world as the end of an era.

Mr. Saint Laurent was born Aug. 1, 1936, in Oran, Algeria, where his father worked as a shipping executive. He first emerged as a promising designer at the age of 17, winning first prize in a contest sponsored by the International Wool Secretariat for a cocktail dress design.

He enrolled at the Chambre Syndicale school of haute couture in 1954, but student life lasted only three months. He was introduced to Mr. Dior, then regarded as the greatest creator of his day, and Mr. Dior was so impressed with Mr. Saint Laurent’s talent that he hired him on the spot.

His first solo collection for Mr. Dior - the “trapeze” line - launched Mr. Saint Laurent to stardom. The trapeze dress - with its narrow shoulders and wide, swinging skirt - was a hit, and a breath of fresh air after years of constructed clothing, tight waists and girdles.

Mr. Saint Laurent said fashion was “not only supposed to make women beautiful, but to reassure them, to give them confidence, to allow them to come to terms with themselves.”

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