Saint Laurent Polka Dots and Party Dresses

(Hedi Slimane playing with polka-dot heritage for Saint Laurent: SS13, AW13, SS14 via Vogue.co.uk. Tap/click on individual photos for gallery view and captions.)

Hello All! It has been too long! Hope you are well and that 2014 has gotten off to a good start for you all.

After a hiatus over Christmas and into the New Year, with festivities, yet more layout work for the book, and other commitments keeping me busy, here we are, and New York, London and Milan Fashion Weeks have been a whirl! Can hardly believe Paris is almost upon us!

Will  write about the new collections in upcoming posts, but wanted to share with you a post that I started thinking about on New Year’s Eve as we were getting ready to go out: it’s about party dresses (one of my own, one of my Mum’s); also about vintage YSL and contemporary Saint Laurent and… polka dots. Before I begin, a big thank you to my oh-so-philosophical friends who reminded me that the blog would be waiting for me when I (and the book) was ready, and that I shouldn’t worry about leaving a bit of a gap between posts: thank you, you know who you are!

So, to the dresses. The dress I wore on New Year’s Eve is not vintage YSL, but several people have asked if it is, over the years… Really the fabric should give it away (ssshh it is ‘vintage’ H&M, c. 2006). I have however gotten so much pleasure from wearing it: to parties, on the first birthday I had after meeting my then boyfriend, now husband; on one of his birthdays, and this New Year’s Eve, as pictured below (with sheer polka-dot tights, though they are hard to see).

If it were vintage YSL c.1983, it would be made of organza over stiff taffeta, with velvet petit-pois polka dots decorating the sheer fabric and highlighting the bow that I tie around my waist each time I put it on. I like that I have to tie the bow myself, that is isn’t stuck on and immoveable. My dress has two layers, one sheer but with a certain stiffness, with petit-pois detailing which is gathered into a ruched bodice, while the underskirt and lining of the bodice are jet black. As it isn’t vintage YSL, and H&M’s budget does not stretch to luxury fabrics, it is not made of heavy silk nor of fine organza, but I love it in any case: it contains two kinds of memories or associations, one personal (my mother’s dress), one fashion-historical (vintage YSL). And here is an example, of couture Yves Saint Laurent, from 1983, just to show you…

Yves Saint Laurent Couture, AW 1983, from Icons of Vintage Fashion (2013)

Yves Saint Laurent Couture, AW 1983, from Icons of Vintage Fashion (2013)

The polka dot on tulle here is exactly what comes to mind when I think of mid-80s cocktail dressing. So one dress, two memories. One of the reasons I love my polka-dot party dress so much, apart from the fact that I have so much fun in it, is that it reminds me of the dress my mother wore to her fortieth birthday party, which we had at our house one fine May evening in 1983. Her dress was not black, it was midnight blue, silk taffeta, with a fine embossed polka dot on the fabric: if you looked closely enough, but only then, could you see it.

A few years later, she asked me did I want to try on her dress, and I remember the feeling of the boning inside the bodice against my ribs; the elements of structure holding up this beautiful mass of deep blue silk. It had a tiny knife-pleat frill around the sweetheart neckline, the skirt dropped to the knee, and it twirled like a dream. I do not have a photo of her in that dress, nor do I have the dress itself, but I have the memory, and every time I wear my polka-dot dress, there she is, a little bit of her, in me. Since I don’t have a picture, here’s a quick sketch next to a photo of my dress.

The shape of course is 1950s cocktail dress made fresh for the 1980s. The shoes she wore to the party were in watermarked black taffeta with silk bows (like Dorothy shoes, I thought, but for serious grown-ups, and with a much higher heel). I loved them too. My first abiding very-special-shoe memory is of her opening the big white box full of white tissue paper on Christmas morning, a present ‘from’ my Dad (obviously chosen by her, but at the time I was very impressed with my Dad), which contained the taffeta shoes.

I found my own pair quite by chance, the winter before I got married, when I was doing all sorts of researching and searching for party shoes that I would love enough to wear again. Black sequins on satin, and a Dorothy bow. In heaven, I thought, and thank you Kurt Geiger (they are pictured above). I liked them so much that I also chose the pale peach sequined version for my wedding shoes, cut off the black bow and still get so much fun from them (especially with skinny jeans and bare ankles). (And PS: they are comfortable!)

But back to dresses and polka dots!

Yves Saint Laurent was not the first to focus on polka dots, both tiny petit-pois dots on sheer fabrics and large, graphic dots on monochrome looks, but he exploited their full design potential through the decades.

Christian Dior (in whose house Saint Laurent had started his career) had heralded the dot as elegant and easy and always in fashion in his Little Dictionary of Fashion (1954). 

Even earlier, in Renoir’s Jeune Femme à la voilette (c.1870) we can see a bonnet with sheer veil and polka dots and several of such bonnets appear in Manet’s Musique aux Tuileries (1862): it was extremely chic to wear such dotted veils even then.

Whether tiny polka dots or large graphic discs, the dot became a key element of the YSL signature throughout Saint Laurent’s life. Hedi Slimane, current creative director of Saint Laurent continues this lineage (as did his predecessor, Stefano Pilati) by showing sheer blouses with polka dots, polka-dotted dresses and polka-dot tights in his shows, as pictured above.

Here is a selection of vintage YSL dots to go with the contemporary ones above for inspiration! And here’s to the upcoming Paris collections!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

A bientôt, bisou!

Sinéad

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Saint Laurent by Hedi Slimane via Vogue.co.uk

Marguerite Duras, Yves Saint Laurent, Icons of Fashion Design (1988, 2010).

Pénélope Blanckaert and Angèle Rincheval Hernu, Icons of Vintage Fashion: Definitive Designer Classics at Auction 1900-2000 (2013).

Photo of YSL in Polka-Dot Bow Tie via ‘Muse: Polka Dots and Moonbeams,’ Process Blog.

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