Yves Saint Lauren: Style Is Eternal at Bowes Museum

Fashion North attended the opening press night of the first ever UK YSL exhibition The exhibition was held at the Bowes Museum and played host to some of Saint Lauren’s most iconic pieces. View our Immersive article above to get a concept of the intricate detailing and the collections on display, or read our article below and discover the visuals yourself by visiting the Bowes Museum.

“I feel like I’m in a French Museum, surrounded by the French greats”, Pierre Bergé’s opening line in his speech in the second floor gallery of the Bowes Museum in the heart of the Durham countryside. From July 11 to October 25 the historical museum is hosting a retrospective to legendary designer Yves Saint-Laurent – the first of it’s kind in the UK.

The one-man showcase has come under great speculation from the nations press asking: “why the north of England, and why not the capital? And most importantly where is the Bowes Museum?” joked Adrian Jenkins, museum director. Once you see the museum, as well as the village that cocoons it, it becomes understandable as to why the period building was chosen.

Driving through the village of Barnard Castle, the time-capsule streets are strewed with YSL flags of his signature dresses, with some of the shops taking on inspiration from the designer, showing complete support for the museum’s biggest presentation to date. Turning onto the mammoth drive of the historical landmark – a French cháteau in the middle of the British countryside, you’re instantly transported to France.

Greeted by a champagne reception with classical music by the Royal Northern ringing through its ancient corridors, wooden stairwells and classic art hanging from its block coloured walls, the historical and French vibe became instantly tangible, reinforcing Pierre’s opening statement.

As the speeches passed, we were asked to join them on the first floor for the first experience of the Saint-Laurent exhibition. Welcomed by the familiar sounds of Ravel’s Balero echoing through the darkened room and a screen projecting YSL’s runways. The room decorated in transparent hangings of his sketches, quotes and information about the designer, all-working seamlessly with the already established museum’s decadent décor.


The exhibition is over three galleries and has five themes, each one uniquely styled to the designer’s collection. The right-hand side plays host to his most recognisable pieces attributing to some of arts greats, Matisse, Picasso and Mondrian, which is possibly his most iconic collection from the late 1960s. Each woollen shift dress inspired by Mondrian’s linear paintings, one of the pieces that celebrates YSL’s ability to parade the female form at it’s best, with it’s heavy black lines hitting the wearers shoulder, waist and knee perfectly.

Another classic piece on display is Saint-Laurent’s Le Smoking tuxedo, playing with the idea of gender, and is said to be one of the most shocking pieces created by the eponymous designer in the 1960s. Pierre, who was YSL’s business partner, and is the founder of the Pierre Bergé Fondation, which aims to keep the YSL legacy alive, said earlier that day that: “Yves took the power from the gentlemen’s shoulder and put them on to the ladies”. Over the course of Saint-Laurent’s career Le Smoking Tuxedo was reincarnated, in various forms with some on display at the museum for the next few months.

The greatest achievement for the Museum is the Zépherine dress. Created at YSL’s time at Dior in 1958, the shocking pink dress in faille fabric with white “Point d’esprit” netting gathered at the rear, has never been seen in public since its show at Blenheim Palace in November 1958 in aid of the Red Cross, and has been fully restored especially for the show.

The left hand side flaunts with the more detailed side, as well as tying in the Bowes Museum’s extensive collection with YSL’s historical designs effortlessly. With five glass cabinets dedicated to various aspects of history such the religion, the rise of simplicity and strong patterns each celebrating the partnership perfectly.

Hats from Saint-Laurent’s collection are paraded in a spectacular fashion, as well as three smaller cabinets in a stark white room displaying a high for any YSL fan, his tribute to Vincent Van Gogh in the late 1980s. The three jackets play homage to his sunflower and lilac paintings, with over 670 hours with of work put into each intensely embroidered and beaded piece.

As the night got into full swing, the music changed from classic favourites to modern, with a DJ set by electronic band Hot Chip, giving the vibe to the evening a new sense of life.

The exhibition is a must for any lover of the designer, fashion lover, as well as art lovers who enjoy seeing talent being shown in such close proximity, allowing you to experience the minute details of each piece.

For anyone who is still in doubt like Adrian said at the beginning of the evening about the location of the event, my advice to you would be, don’t be. The Bowes Museum exhibition has put them firmly on the fashion map with the celebration of Yves Saint Laurent. It is elegantly done, not just by choosing to have it at the French chateâu in the middle of the North East countryside, which reinforces the French and stylish aspects all the more. But by having it in its almost secluded location it makes it all the more special.

The Yves Saint Laurent: Style Is Eternal exhibition is at the Bowes Museum from July 11 to October 25, with tickets available online and in Fenwick in Newcastle priced £12.50, £10.50 for concessions and £6.00 for students with under 16s going for free.


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