Yves Saint Laurent and ‘Dreams of the Orient’


PARIS — Yves Saint Laurent was fascinated by Asian art and culture all his life. But, as a new exhibition scheduled to open next at the Musée Yves Saint Laurent Paris will reveal, he rarely — if ever — traveled to the region, or visited the countries that inspired him the most.

“All I have to do to blend into a place or a landscape is to read a book, or look at a picture, and then use my imagination,” the French designer famously declared. He also drew inspiration from Hollywood movies such as the 1932 Marlene Dietrich thriller “Shanghai Express.” “I have been to every country in my dreams.”

The museum, which opened last year, occupies the former Saint Laurent couture atelier, which closed when the designer retired in 2002. In its first temporary exhibition, “Yves Saint Laurent: Dreams of the Orient” (Oct. 2 to Jan. 27) displays more than 50 couture designs by Mr. Saint Laurent that were inspired by India, China and Japan. There are rich silk brocade jackets and emperor gowns from his fall 1977 Les Chinoises collection, in fiery red floral prints or gold dragon-like scales. Dresses with silhouettes influenced by a Ming dynasty vase are displayed next to beautiful original sketches of a perfume bottle for his controversial Opium fragrance introduced the same year.

The exhibition charts his continuing obsession with India (a place Mr. Saint Laurent never visited), from its fabrics to jewels and various reinterpretations of the turban and sari. And it looks at his enduring interest in Japan (the only Asian country he visited regularly), from the kimonos of Kyoto courtesans to Kabuki theater costumes, framed around Japanese artworks lent by museums and private collectors.

“Asia was a recurring theme for Mr. Saint Laurent but a place he largely visited through imaginary travels, rarely in real life,” Aurélie Samuel, the exhibition’s curator, said. “But he knew so much about the history and heritage of these countries, and that shines through in his work. These garments are a reminder of the power of his dreams.”


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