Monday, June 2, 2008

Yves Saint Laurent Dies

I am very fond of the word philistine. I hate to use it, yet I find myself compelled to do so over and over, as those of you who read these pages and write to me have noted on several occasions. As a defender of popular culture and its great social potency which I referred to in multiple posts already, it is imperative that I combat philistines every time I come across them, if only by putting the opposing viewpoint out into the open. Usually, the written word is an excellent mean to do so, especially when the philistines themselves are so fond of it, despite their usual lack of sensible grammar, spelling and/or syntax. News reached me today that Yves Saint Laurent died in Paris. I know nobody lives forever, but even though Yves retired a few years back, just knowing that he was alive was enough to make me feel like he was watching over our fashion innovations and blunders with characteristic panache, sense of humour and drive. To know that he is no more is saddening. Yves's legacy to popular culture is enormous. As Alexandra Topping from The Guardian rightly puts it:

Diana Vreeland, the legendary American fashion magazine editor, dubbed him the "Pied Piper of fashion. She said: "Whatever he does, women of all ages, from all over the world, follow." Saint Laurent's nipped-in trouser suits, slinky tuxedos and safari jackets still look perfectly modern decades after their shocking debuts on the runway. In an industry where most clothes are deemed passé after six months, such longevity is as rare as a healthy looking model. Saint Laurent's influence can still be seen on any high street in any western country.

His styles epitomised a certain kind of seductive, wealthy, intelligent French woman - Catherine Deneuve, in other words, who frequently sat in the front row at his shows, and it's a look that is still as desirable today as it was 40 years ago. His shamelessly sexy clothes dovetailed perfectly with feminism's inception, as did his advent of trousers for a woman's daily wardrobe, and his frequent references in his collection to art and other aspects of modern culture. He was one of the first to use black models and he also is credited with beginning to democratise the fashion world by shifting the industry's attention from the rarefied and frankly extortionate world of haute couture to the relatively more accessible one of prêt a porter, with his Rive Gauche line.

You see, I couldn't stop at this spot-on and fair recollection of Yves's work. I had to go and scour for philistines. Amazon's reviews are usually a really good place, but one that is equally as good, if not better, given its great timing, is the BBC Online Have Your Say page. Here, no matter the discussion at hand, philistines abound. They can talk about council tax, about terrorists, about under-age drinking, about movies, about fashion, about music, about anything, about all, about nothing; philistines know it all. They flood the debate with gusto, they grow on trees, they scatter themselves like cornflakes, they rise like an unstoppable tide, they sneak up on the unaware reader like Brutus and his dagger. I often think that the BBC likes to censor sensible opinions and only publishes the idiotic ones. Where would the entertainment value be otherwise? I will just consider one out of the very many imbeciles that have commented today. Reviewing them all would take more time than I care to waste. A certain Maggie Jones from Cheltenham sends in her pearls of wisdom:

Yves St Laurent, was a clothes designer thats all! His contribution to society was minimal, I can think of a lot more people who deserve to be mentioned on BBC HYS other than a clothes designer.

Maggie, you're a moron. An uncultured, hopeless, worryingly illiterate moron. Yves's contribution to society was minimal, was it? Empowering women to dress like men and therefore surge to the unprecedented level of boardroom members in the corporate world was minimal, was it? Reinforcing the message of feminism and unleashing it within fashion and therefore throughout all levels of society was minimal, was it? Using black models at a time when the most iconic black woman of all in popular culture was a servant was minimal, was it?* And who are the more deserving people you're thinking of that the BBC should mention in its Have Your Say pages? People like you perhaps, who are educated enough to show contempt and unrivalled ignorance of one of the greatest icons of popular culture whose legacy will live forever? If there is a pair of pants in your wardrobe, you can thank Saint Laurent. If there is a formal jacket, you can thank Saint Laurent. If black women in the media are at least being considered as worthy of work, you can thank Saint Laurent. If you can shop at cheaper places thanks to the great and wide democratisation of fashion, you can thank Saint Laurent. If women in the workplace are now free to wear both feminine and less feminine garments and can excise choice on a daily basis, you can thank Saint Laurent. And for your unnerving and entertaining showmanship of moronic ignorance of sans frontieres Gargantuan proportions, we can all thank Saint Laurent as well who, even in death, brought us something so dazzling ignorant that we can rejoice in our sober, non-philistine state.

* That's Mammy from Gone With The Wind. You didn't get that? Yes, I wouldn't have thought so.
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