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How Yves Saint Laurent Taught Us To Think About Fashion

Eulogy, Obiturary, or Elegie?


The wider fashion press is likely to spend most of today memorializing one of fashion's true greats. Yves Saint Laurent died at his home in Paris late Sunday at 71 after a long, undisclosed illness. We here at Coutorture feel a great burden upon us as we discuss this life, for after all what can we say that you cannot hear elsewhere in the news media?

We do not doubt that all of the blogosphere will be buzzing for days to come. We wish we knew in our sadness over this passing what it is we should say. Should we focus on a straight obituary? Published biographies recounting the lives of those who have recently died have value no doubt. But certainly you can learn just as much from a wikipedia page.

Perhaps a eulogy would be more appropriate? We come here not to bury Yves Saint Laurent but to praise him? There is much to be said about Yves's incredible innovations, his work in the acceptance of ready to wear as a viable form of fashion for instance, his smoking jackets, his ever ingenious ability with menswear as womenswear, and yet we must assume that our readers are well aware of these praise worthy facts.

We imagine then perhaps our musings are more on the line of an elegy. The term "elegy" was originally used for a type of poetic metre (Elegiac metre), but is also used for a poem of mourning, from the Greek elegos, a reflection on the death of someone or on a sorrow generally. We cannot say we are much for poetry but we are certainly musing.

And so we have decided to leave you with another last form writing on death. The funeral oration is a storied tradition in classicism given by many a great leader. The true original oration came from one Pericles of Athens after the first year of the Peloponnesian War. In it, as Pericles mourns Athen's war dead, a vision of the Athenian people is given. Should you choose, you can read it in its entirety here. Pericles proposes to focus on "the road by which we reached our position, the form of government under which our greatness grew, and the national habits out of which it sprang."

Thus you can see why an ancient Greek funeral oration may have some use to grieving fashion lovers. Yves Saint Laurent embodies much of modern fashion history. Fashion today exists from the road laid by this great designer. Eulogies, obituaries, and even elegies are essentially the orations of our collective media painting a picture of who we are as fashion lovers and where we came from. Like Pericles, we may be mourning the passing of Yves Saint Laurent but we are also seeing our own fashion lineage and preparing for our fashion future.

Yves Saint Laurent once said "I tried to show that fashion is an art. For that, I followed the counsel of my master Christian Dior and the imperishable lesson of Mademoiselle Chanel. I created for my era and I tried to foresee what tomorrow would be." (1983)

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