If you’re looking for inspiration this holiday season, it’s worth checking out the latest Yves Saint Laurent exhibit at the Seattle Art Museum on view until January 8, 2017. The show will travel on to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts from May 6-August 27, 2017. But if you can’t make it to the museum, the exhibition catalogue by Rizzoli offers a multidimensional look behind the scenes of Yves Saint Laurent. After looking through my copy yesterday, I think the book would make a great gift for yourself or for the fashion lover in your life. Highlights include many previously unseen documents from the Fondation Pierre Bergé and Saint Laurent’s maison de couture or paper doll collection fabricated out of cut paper when the designer was only a boy. Click here for a look at the current exhibit at the Seattle Art Museum.
Nora Ephron gave a commencement speech at Wellesley College in 1996 and said something I’ve cherished. “Whatever you choose, however many roads you travel, I hope that you choose not to be a lady. I hope you will find some way to break the rules and make a little trouble out there.” This statement occurs to me each time I look in my closet, tasked with finding something to wear. Unlike many of my peers, I missed out as a child on experimenting with fashion. I was never one of those kids, who on the path to self-expression, masterfully paired clashing items of their wardrobe to create an improbably chic outfit. My sisters and I were closed off from this creative process: we wore a uniform every day from kindergarten through to eighth-grade. In the Catholic school atmosphere we grew up in, there was no room for sartorial experimentation.
A direct consequence of my uniform years is that, as a teenager and college student, I abided by the fashion rules. A lady doesn’t wear white after Labor Day; she matches her bag to her shoes; she doesn’t show her knees past a certain age; a lady avoids black, white and pants when attending a wedding. But rather than finding comfort in my execution of the rules, I often felt insecure in whatever I had on. I didn’t take any joy in getting dressed. Wearing all white in the summer made me uneasy, as did wearing dresses to weddings. In college, I didn’t understand why it wasn’t socially acceptable for a woman to wear a jumpsuit or even pants to formal events. Then, in my late twenties, when I was about to become a bride, I was cautioned on all sides against the color black and dressing in pants.
At this point, I knew it was time to rebel and break the rules: I wanted to be the bride who wore both black and pants. I also wanted to experiment with oppositions, combining those colors and fabrics that are conventionally seen as incompatible: purple with burnt orange, burnt orange with green, navy with black, brown with grey, velvet with brocade, tweed with chiffon, and floral prints with military separates. And while we’re at it, why not mix winter fabrics with summer fabrics? And layer a tough chic motorcycle jacket over a ladylike dress? Let’s incorporate feathers and sequins into a traditional daytime look. But contrast and opposition are not ladylike. And society places a great deal of pressure on women to dress appropriately. In her commencement address, Nora Ephron, a rule breaker, recognized that women are encouraged to follow convention, to avoid taking risks, to be ladies.
Like Ephron, Loulou de la Falaise was the kind of woman who never bothered with the rulebook. A bohemian with whimsical style, de la Falaise met Yves Saint Laurent in 1968 and became his lifelong muse and collaborator. A jewelry designer for the Saint Laurent house, she once described her style in a Guardian interview as tomboy gypsy. In refusing to conform to various fashion decrees, de la Falaise was extraordinarily stylish. Shortly after her death in 2011, Hamish Bowles wrote in Vogue, “she provided a walking embodiment of what real style-personal, quirky, unexpected, inspiring-could be.”
It seems to me, that not following the fashion rules matters because in the process of jettisoning certain dictates and trends, you arrive at a point of discovery. It’s a moment in which you come to recognize what it is you truly admire about fashion. It’s not rebelliousness for the sake of rebelling; breaking the fashion rules is far more complicated than that. When a woman wears what’s unexpected she demonstrates a fearlessness that’s both empowering and engaging. Because breaking the rules is honest-a woman is being true to her own unique style-and that’s awfully courageous.