No one did shoes like Yves Saint Laurent
For the designer, shoes were discreet, complementary details - light final touches to be applied sparingly
The great 20th century French designer Yves Saint Laurent may have wowed the audiences at his runway shows with his earrings, hats and gloves, yet he regarded other accessories as necessarily less showy parts of an outfit.
"For him, shoes fell into the category of discreet complementary details, of light final touches to be applied sparingly," writes Patrick Mauriès in our new book Yves Saint Laurent Accessories.
"Nowhere is this better illustrated than in one of his signature shoes, the low-heeled patent-leather court shoe with a silver buckle that he designed in 1965 for Roger Vivier, and which Catherine Deneuve wore in Luis Buñuel’s film Belle de Jour (1967)." You can spot the shoes around the 28 seconds mark in this newly restored version of the film's trailer.
As the designer's fame grew, so did the demand for his shoes, which Saint Laurent managed to satisfy, without lowering his standards.
"Saint Laurent typically produced one or two shoe designs for the four haute-couture shows every year, and these would be made up in his own in-house workshop, a team of five people led by Alexandre Narcy and set up in the 1970s," Mauriès writes.
"As the business grew and after the SAINT LAURENT rive gauche line was launched (1966), outside suppliers were brought in and granted licences to produce shoes for the house (Schwartz & Benjamin in the United States, Rossimoda in Europe and Regal Corporation in Japan). They had to maintain very close contact with Paris, however, and ensure that their products met Saint Laurent’s exacting standards: nothing escaped his notice, from the quality of the skins to the design of the shoes, which were adapted from haute couture styles."
Though his shoes were often demur, he never bowed to middle-class edicts, and, Mauriès claims, often delighted in contradicting the most basic of bourgeois fashion faux pas. "There was nothing more alien to Saint Laurent’s taste than the notion of matching accessories or coordinating shoes," he argues, "nothing he rejected more adamantly, as we have seen, than bourgeois convention and starchy elegance.
"He stood up instead for Oriane, Duchesse de Guermantes, who – in a passage from Proust’s In Search of Lost Time that Saint Laurent was fond of quoting – is required by her husband to change her shoes as she is about to leave for a ball because, in the duke’s eyes, she has committed a ‘sin’ by wearing black shoes with a red dress.
"The designer made it a rule to have dresses and shoes that were for the most part deliberately ‘discordant’: for example, a delicate red satin high heel peeping out from under the billowing dark skirts of a black silk dress."
For a little Proustian taste of Yves Saint Laurent's beautiful, bygone accessories get Yves Saint Laurent Accessories here.