In the early 1980s, when Diana Vreeland sought to represent the best of contemporary haute couture in the galleries of The Costume Institute, she selected Yves Saint Laurent as the focus of her groundbreaking exhibition on the work of a living designer. As a master of the traditions of haute couture, Saint Laurent simply had no equal. For many women of elegance, including Mrs. Kempner, the Saint Laurent style for a time surpassed all others as a source of unwaveringly elegant and technically refined clothes for day and night. In a period of more than 40 years, Mrs. Kempner acquired almost 600 examples of this master's work. Although she clearly had an affinity for Saint Laurent's man-tailored designs, especially "Le Smoking"—his version of a tuxedo for women—and his pantsuits, she was equally seduced by his sensuous evening dresses. Saint Laurent's mastery of drapery is evident in Mrs. Kempner's choices, whether in chiffon, satin, or silk crepe. Her gowns also represent the designer's famously sensitive yet audacious use of color. The Saint Laurent palette has been compared to the vivid hues of a Matisse painting or the set designs for a Diaghilev ballet, but they are, on closer study, distinctly the designer's own. See an alternate view of this ensemble.
Yves Saint Laurent (French, born Algeria, 1936)
, spring/summer 1989
Gown: green and olive silk georgette; cape: blue silk georgette
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Gift of Mr. Thomas L. Kempner, 2006 (2006.420.48a, b)