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The designer famously liberated women from skirts by suggesting stylish takes on pantsuits, including his famous safari looks of the 1970s, here modeled by his muses Betty Catroux (left) and Loulou de la Falaise.
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He was crowned a boy wonder after taking over the house of Christian Dior, following the legendary designer’s sudden death, at the age of 21 in 1958. The designer wowed the fashion elite with his trapeze silhouette, which had never been seen before and would become a mod staple.
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In 1961, Saint Laurent – with his lover Pierre Bergé – announced the opening of his own design house, where he is credited with creating the idea of “ready-to-wear” clothing. While his romance with Bergé fizzled, the two remained lifelong business partners.
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The designer often referenced artwork directly in his designs, from his “Mondrian” dresses of 1965 to prints that took from artists like Matisse, Picasso and Christian Bérard.
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The designer – here working with a model in his Paris studio – was known for his shy demeanor and fragile mental state, following a breakdown during his service in the French army in 1960. At his retirement in 2002, Saint Laurent said, “I have known fear and the terrors of solitude. I have known those fairweather friends we call tranquilizers and drugs. I have known the prison of depression and the confinement of hospital. But one day, I was able to come through all of that, dazzled yet sober.”
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One of the his most revolutionary moments was the “Ballet Russe” collection of 1976, where the designer introduced maxi-skirts and luxe takes on traditional Eastern European peasant garb to the French elite.
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In 1977, Saint Laurent launched his scandalously named – and now iconic – perfume Opium with a lavish New York party for 900 guests, including fellow designer Halston and Cher. The perfume’s tagline, “Opium, For Those Who Are Addicted to Yves Saint Laurent,” led to angry charges that the designer was glamorizing drug use.
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UP IN SMOKE
As if his chic hippie looks for the day weren’t shocking enough, the designer boldly suggested pantsuits as eveningwear for women. The look – his signature “Le Smoking” tuxedo suits – became immortalized in Helmut Newton’s sexually charged photos of the ’70s.
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Saint Laurent forged a long-lasting friendship with Catherine Deneuve, who famously wore his designs in Belle du Jour and continued wearing them throughout their careers.
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ON THE DOT
After his groundbreaking work of the ’60s and ’70s, Saint Laurent changed his design perspective in the ’80s to espouse a more classic style. He told an interviewer in 1983, “A woman’s wardrobe shouldn’t change every six months. You should be able to use the pieces you already own and add to them.” Through the ’90s, the designer continued putting fresh faces on his runway – as he did in 1992, with a young new model named Tyra Banks.
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After Saint Laurent stepped down in 2002, Gucci designer Tom Ford – and later, Ford’s protegé Stefano Pilati – took over the design helm at the company. Today, fashionistas like Katie Holmes, Julianne Moore and Nicole Kidman continue to flock to the brand.
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