I keep meaning to go back to the Yves Saint Laurent exhibit for a worthwhile second walkthrough. After this first experience I am left with several incomplete thoughts and maybe overly judgmental impressions. For the first visit:

Sunday April 11th, exactly one month after the opening of the exhibition, I found myself at 9:30 in the morning, half an hour before the doors opened, standing behind about a hundred other early risers hoping to beat the line. The golden gates of the Petit Palais and a velvet rope were the only thing standing between me and 300 Yves Saint Laurent looks on display in his retrospective. Often referred to as on of the ‘plus grand coutouriers’ of 20th century fashion, there is a lot to discuss about his impact on the industry.

The brief overview: The displays were creative and impressive. But not universally valuable. One success was the recreation of the closet of actress: which represented how YSL, the collection, functioned in real life. Not all of the choices were so effective. A black wall defined the far end of the room, with glossy black heads shining from the necklines of decades’ worth of his signature ‘smoking’ ensemble. Entering into the room, the bright and sparkling garments displayed on the grand staircase popped in an impressive contrast against the wall of black. Sequins, crystals, and every color silk swirled and puffed and tucked and gathered from one theme to another up and down the stairs. However, the expansive and impressive displays quickly lost their impact for anyone who really wanted to look at the clothes. The neck-craning exploration of the smoking ensembles quickly became tiring, and the temptation to walk up the stairs to see that dress that was behind those others from every angle you tried to see was difficult to resist. It is true that the expansive collection was an ambitious project, and they were right to insist that the entire presentation was necessary. But after the first striking impact, it is difficult to appreciate the garments.

And in fact, one of the most impactful displays was not garments at all, but his library of color swatches. In the last room of the exhibition was consecrated to a series of brightly colored silk evening dresses. Each encased individually, their many layers billowing with breeze machines blowing from vents underneath. And all along the walls were the pages of notebook paper to which he had pinned the hundreds of color references. Silks and wools and cottons and everything from light to medium to dark and saturated to dull and beautiful and ugly and almost black to almost white. It was a real insight into the vocabulary that the designer built for himself. The wealth of his references and experiences. And such a simple idea, but such a significant contribution to the full story of his process and the precision of his eye and the information behind his decisions.

In all I am left wanting a bit more, I felt it even as I was leaving my first walk through- going back through the visit in my head wondering to make sure I had seen everything. The obvious realization was that I had not. Of course there is not time enough in a day to fully absorb and process all of the information. At the surface it is rooms full of beautiful clothes. Once a single step is taken to dig a little deeper, the experience leaves you in a state of deep dissatisfaction. As if I expected to be able to walk in a digest a lifetime of work with a simple walk through. And so this marks my first venture on the subject which I will put to rest to await my inevitable return.

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