THE MOMENT: Yves Saint Laurent meets Catherine Deneuve

For this weekly column, writer Mishal Cazmi highlights an iconic film, item or collaboration and explore its influence on style and pop culture. Above, Catherine Deneuve and Jean Sorel in Belle de Jour (1967). Deneuve is outfitted by Yves Saint Laurent.

Sometimes, sartorial inspiration is only a muse away. If the muse is extraordinary, she will possess a certain magic, that wondrous ability to inspire a designer’s vision, which might result in something remarkable. For Yves Saint Laurent, that muse was actress Catherine Deneuve.

The two met on the set of Luis Buñuel’s film, Belle de Jour in 1966, marking the beginning of a lifelong friendship. Yves Saint Laurent designed what would become some of the most celebrated outfits in film, referenced time and again in fashion and pop culture.

In the film, Deneuve plays Severine, a doctor’s wife who leads a double life. During the day, she plays the part of a prostitute, turning her reveries into reality, and at night, she settles into the role of the delicate, domestic housewife.

The film bears Saint Laurent’s sartorial stamp: In tailored coats and dresses, Deneuve is perfectly Parisienne. Laurent fashioned a dual wardrobe for Severine,  to represent her double life. Her outfits tell the story of two different women: the feminine wholesome image she feigns in front of her husband, and that of the confident seductress she cultivates in the brothel.

The first time Severine is in a brothel, for example, she is not dressed the part. Her dress, while pretty and pristine, is too impractical, too refined for the part-time occupation she’s about to take up. She’s swiftly told that she’ll wear the zipper out in one afternoon. Her uniform behind the closed doors of the brothel is her skin, occasionally lingerie. These are the details one notices because Saint Laurent converses with the viewer through Deneuve’s clothes.

Following Belle de Jour, Catherine Deneuve wore many of Saint Laurent’s designs both on and off screen. Together, they worked on films such as La Chamade (1968), Mississippi Mermaid (1969), Liza (1972) and The Hunger (1983).

Fashion is full of great designer-muse relationships—Saint Laurent himself also had intense collaborative relationships with Betty Catroux and Loulou de la Falaise. More recently on the muse front, Philip Treacy was inspired by Isabella Blow, Marc Jacobs by Sofia Coppola; Nicolas Ghesquière by Charlotte Gainsbourg.

A rare bird, the right muse can be a designer’s boon. And though neither Laurent nor Deneuve needed the other to achieve success, together, they created something extraordinary. Their great friendship lasted until Saint Laurent’s death in 2008. At his Paris funeral at the Eglise Saint-Roch, a visibly distraught Deneuve read from Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. She wore a black satin trench and buckled Roger Vivier flats, updated versions of the pair she had worn in Belle de Jour.

Below, director Luis Buñuel giving Denueve instructions on the set of Belle de Jour.

Yves Saint Laurent sketches for Severine.

Deneuve and YSL, shortly after the release of Belle de Jour.

Deneuve in Hunger, the last film for which Saint Laurent designed her costumes.

Yves Saint Laurent’s final show, in January 2002.

In An Education (2009), Rosamund Pike channels Deneuve circa Belle de Jour .

Further reading:

Yves Saint Laurent Style

The Beautiful Fall: Lagerfeld, Saint Laurent and Glorious Excess in 1970s Paris

A l’ombre de moi-même (Deneuve’s 2004 memoir)

Further viewing:

Yves Saint Laurent: His Life and Times

5 Avenue Marceau, 751116 Paris (in this charming clip, Deneuve tries on YSL outfits and delivers her verdict on them. At 4:21, she starts talking about a fox who ate her hens. “People think hens are stupid. I think they’re nice.”)

Click here to read about the iconic Hermès scarf and Schiaparelli’s Skeleton Dress in The Moment.

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