Yves Saint Laurent

In 1971, the same year that his radical ” 1940s” collection shocked animal activists and fashion critics, Yves Saint Laurent released his first perfume for men, Pour Homme. For its advertisements, Yves Saint Laurent posed in nude in front of the camera of a close friend, Jean Loup Sieff. Sieff who worked for Magnum and was at the apex of his fashion photography career when he took fourteen photos for Yves Saint Laurent. The photo brashly challenged conventional taboos of male nudity in mainstream advertising of the era.

YSL and Sieff rejected the conventional machismo virility that was usually used in the ads on that time, such as Old Spice (introduced in 1937) and Aramis (introduced in 1964). It was a ‘natural’ appearance after the excesses of 1960s youthquake ostentation and fantasy. Although YSL personally wished the photo become an icon of gay liberation, he looked almost a Christ-like figure, a wavy-haired and gaunt and stark naked but for his large-rimmed glasses. The photos desexualized nudity, and presented a more vulnerable, and androgynous side of humanity. Yet, it was the common look in those early ’70s; it was embraced by Mick Jagger, Woodstock and theatre productions such as Hair and Oh, Calcutta!

Last week, I saw the above photo being dedicated an entire room in the Petit Palais where a grand YSL exhibition is currently going on. Over 300 YSL outfits (out of 5000 kept in his foundation) are displayed. There is also YSL’s desk, his personal belongings, original sketches and an entire wall of Le Smoking variations (all 236 of them), not to mention a grand staircase of couture. (In fact, the photo was used also to cover YSL’s obituary in the German Vanity Fair, and to mark the above Memoire Vivante exhibition in Paris Match. The digitally inserted model on his lap is Laetitia Casta, YSL’s last muse).

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