Genius and visionary are labels quite often liberally applied to fashion designers and very rarely warranted but in the case of Yves Saint Laurent, they scarcely seem to do him justice.
So relevant, modern and still widely copied are Saint Laurent's designs that it's easy to forget how revolutionary they were when they appeared in the late 1950s, when he took over as creative director at Christian Dior at just 21 years old. His first collection for Dior featured the iconic "Trapeze" dress.
Saint Laurent (along with his great rival and contemporary Karl Lagerfeld – they were both discovered in the same design competition held by the International Wool Secretariat in 1954) shook up the Paris fashion scene, which until his arrival comprised of impenetrable couture salons servicing a privileged few. He is credited with inventing "ready to wear" and starting the trend for dramatic, and in his case lengthy, catwalk shows.
He was also lauded as a great liberator of women and was the first to put women in trousers – or more importantly trousers that made them look feminine - for workwear and formalwear, most famously with his trademark women's tuxedo "Le Smoking". Many early adopters of the look, including New York socialite Nan Kempner, recounted stories of being turned away from restaurants and hotels for offending social sensibilities by not wearing skirts or dresses. (Kempner's response was to remove the trousers and walk in wearing only the jacket as a mini-dress – a look emulated on the autumn 07 YSL catwalk by current creative director Stefano Pilati).