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Yves Saint Laurent takes Paris — again

A first-time retrospective of the French fashion designer's work opens at the Petit Palais.

“Yves Saint Laurent understood that power lay with men. So he used men’s clothes to dress women, it was a transfer of power," said Berge at the press opening.

Saint Laurent’s pantsuits, jumpsuits and safari jacket were men’s clothes but they were sensual, seductive and feminine. “Saint Laurent spent his life thinking about women and their bodies," Berge said.

An entire wall of the show is devoted to variations of Saint Laurent’s “Smoking” suit, inspired by the tuxedo.

In 1971, Saint Laurent's controversial 1940s retro look was called “the ugliest show in town." Now Olivier Saillard, curator of an exhibition opening in April on the most beautiful contemporary runway fashion shows at the Arts Decoratifs, uses Saint Laurent’s 1971 collection as a marker for the beginning of contemporary fashion.

1971 was also the year Saint Laurent posed naked for photographer Jeanloup Sieff for an advertisement for his first perfume for men. For the Petit Palais show, 14 other pictures from the shoot are exhibited for the first time.

The designer’s “imaginary journeys” took him to Africa, Spain, Russia and China for his collections, when in fact Morocco was the only country Saint Laurent visited regularly. He also took inspiration from classical masters such as Vermeer, Goya and Velasquez, as well as artists including Picasso, Mondrian and Jean Cocteau. The exhibit includes costumes Saint Laurent designed for theater as well as for Catherine Deneuve in Luis Bunuel’s 1967 film "Belle du Jour."

The curators have succeeded here in synthesizing an enormous body of work in order to show the harmony in Saint Laurent’s creations. “He was neither a minimalist nor an extravagant baroque type. He achieved a balance,” said Florence Mueller, one of the curators, describing what makes Yves Saint Laurent so quintessentially French.

Saint Laurent’s ubiquitous presence in the French capital will continue into 2011 with a film due out next fall about the designer and Pierre Berge called "L’Amour Fou" ("Crazy Love"). In February 2011 a major exhibition of Yves Saint Laurent’s creations for his pret-a-porter line, Rive Gauche, will open at the Pierre Berge-Yves Saint Laurent Foundation.