My earliest memories of clothes are from the late 60s. There aren’t a ton of family photos from that time, but the ones I have are sometimes intensely triggering in a tactile sense. I can look at the dress I was wearing and actually feel it on my body : the spongy smooth surface of the double-knit fabric and the scratchy embroidery along the back. My mom used to sew little shift dresses for me and my sister, and this one in particular had a row of pink tape with connected circles. That groovy bit of trim never got tucked in under the back seam so it always poked me. There was another yellow one with daisies that made their way around the chest. I cannot tell you how special these were to me.
This post is about being hugely influenced by a designer... consciously or not. I am thinking of the famous scene in The Devil Wears Prada where Meryl Streep’s character is talking down to her assistant – the movie’s main character - and lecturing her on the significance of a cerulean sweater and its journey from runway collection all the way down to mass market. The assistant is naïve and clueless. How would she know her mind had been influenced so indirectly? For me, this designer has always been Yves Saint Laurent. The YSL line has gone through several evolutions over the years and you may be picturing a monogrammed handbag or a gold tube of lipstick ringed with connected circles (hey! who knew?) But my mental image is from a very particular season in 1968, before all the logo mania. The iconic pieces from that collection have turned out to be a map of my life.
This family photo (from Easter 1970, I think) illustrates the idea behind the cerulean monologue perfectly. Just like that shade of blue, the little daisies and the circles on the shift dress were “filtered down” — as were the bow neckline on my mother’s tunic and the graphic red-white-and-blue stripe of my sister’s minidress — from his Spring 1968 collection. I know this because we used to carry this cool YSL coloring book that was filled with his sketches and swatches. Children’s book as proof text. Maybe my mom knew of Yves Saint Laurent, or maybe not. But she had sensational taste and a sewing machine, so the things she stitched up for us from Simplicity or Butterick patterns made their way from his designs to our backs and my consciousness. An even more obvious example is the safari-style lace-up shirt that my brother is wearing in a back-to-school photo from 1971. From Veruschka in French Vogue all the way to Chris in Brookfield, Wisconsin. So many of us from that time in the YSL aesthetic, even if we couldn’t name him.
Unbeknownst to me, I was being set up for my future taste. By the time I got a real job in fashion, some 15 years after the homemade shift dresses, YSL was nearly on his way out… but was still revered by my boss Polly, who wore his clothes easily. She was made for movement and would fly around the office (and occasionally scream at me to ‘RUN.’) Even as trends changed, he stuck to his classic look of menswear-style tailoring: broad-shouldered jackets, wide trousers, slim pencil skirts. Amid all his fantasy, these basic pieces were his trademark, and they suited her. I recently came across a video of her on Instagram, furiously clapping in the audience for his FW80 Haute Couture collection. The drama! I remember her enthusiasm for YSL exactly like this: standing behind her at the lightbox as she reviewed his collection, oohing and aahing over the photographer’s slides. That was enough to clue me in. When I got the inside scoop about a YSL sample sale, I hustled over to 7th Avenue.
I wore a dress from that sample sale when I flew to Wichita for my grandmother’s 80th birthday. It became my go-to piece when I was invited anywhere that felt sophisticated or special. I wore it with Sid when we celebrated our first Christmas alone in New York (my great friend from college, Debbie Smith made us a trio.) The following year, I wore another jacket from that same sample sale to my brother’s funeral in Los Angeles. The shoulder pads in it are totally exaggerated by today’s standards, but it felt a little like armor for such a terrible day. If he were still around, he would laugh with me over the circularity of it all. I could make a timeline of all these moments, important and happy and sad, with the great Yves connecting them.
This suede jacket is one of my very favorite pieces on our line this season. And it is YSL to the max. That Spring 68 collection has made its way to nearly all of our store moodboards, and like my mother, I have stitched up renditions of his lace-up safari-style dress from that exact same season. So this past summer, when I was at a vintage store in Zurich and found a suede Yves Saint Laurent safari jacket —also from 1968 — I had to have it. It felt like discovering a long-lost cousin. A particularly aspirational branch of my family tree. It was a part of me and who I became. Another point on the timeline.
This has been a sort of indulgent walk down memory lane. But you don’t need a personal connection to feel amazing and chic in this jacket. I didn’t know why I loved what I loved. And often still don’t. It has the same safari spirit as that original YSL one but feels fresh and new, even 56 years later. It is made in Italy from soft lamb suede with horn buttons – luxe but not too heavy for springtime. It is classic enough to bend to any personality. (It was inspired by a military jacket… what could be more uniform than that?) It can make the simplest t-shirt + jeans, or blouse + trousers, or shift dress + flats — look sharp and easy at the same time. Finished and polished… but with a sense of ease. That is exactly how I would describe YSL… and how I hope someone might describe our brand, too. Sid’s included. You just may need this, I promise.