Its been a while since I was last at Bowes Museum on a cold December day when the parterre was less than welcoming, having presumably been the victim of stall holders for a Christmas Fayre. This week the weather was still ungracious but the groundsmen had patently been busy.
I wasn’t here for the splendours of this great edifice however, but a building in the style of a French chateau was perhaps fitting to display the creations of an internationally renowned Frenchman, a Frenchman who would probably have taken exception to my quoting from Bowie’s Fashion for the title of this posting. The Frenchman was Yves Saint Laurent. And he was born in Algeria.
The reason that he may have taken exception to my title was that he declared that he wasn’t interested in fashion, he was about style and this is the theme of an exhibition of his work at Bowes. Style is eternal. Maybe more of an Italian concept? Anyway with two young women to entertain this weekend it was an obvious attraction.
There are only three rooms being utilised for the exhibition, and as these are normally exhibits in themselves they were shrouded in black voile; appropriate for the man who brought a black chiffon see-through dress to the world back in the 1960’s. Here the fabric took on more importance than the shapes beyond it, for quotations from the designer were writ large, handwritten in French with English translations in Helvetica, another eternal piece of design.
The experience was interesting, in that I was fascinated by the process, the toiles, or prototypes, made of plain fabric such as muslin or calico, even down to the buttons. These sample garments could be used to develop a precise fit for the woman who was to wear the finished creation without risk to more expensive fabrics. His drawings too were on display, and I am always fascinated by the way in which a few pencil strokes can describe so much in the hands of a real talent.
One of the accompanying videos demonstrated Saint Laurent’s preference for working with a live model rather than a wooden dummy at this stage of the process, and there was a telling message here for the exhibition itself. The ancillary items held more appeal than the garments themselves, which displayed lifelessly on white mannequins became somewhat ordinary.
Luckily the catwalk videos and photography (including work by Helmut Newton, Jeanloup Sieff and Guy Bourdin) struck the right note and showed how an intensely shy and frail man has left an enduring mark on the world. You have to take your hat off to him!