Woman's Jacket from Yves Saint Laurent
The Russian Collection
The Russian Collection
Yves Saint Laurent (1936-2008) launched his prêt-à-porter, or ready to wear collection he titled Rive Gauche in 1966, at the beginning of what was to become a standard practice for fashion designers. This coat is from Saint Laurent’s famous Russian Collection, presented in 1976. Saint Laurent, who was born in French Algeria and grew up living on the Mediterranean, was often influenced by non-western cultures. The New York Times quoted him, in an interview published just months after the Collection’s debut, as saying, “They are derived from the typical clothes of Austria, Morocco, Czechoslovakia, Russia,” he said. “Ethnic clothes. Very loose, not complicated.” Saint Laurent later said he was inspired by the way Russian peasants lived and existed outside of the Russian politics; living simple lives. He was also inspired by Russian fantasy and heroines in Russian literature. Fashion writer Bernadine Morris used such terms as “haute peasant look” and “elegant peasants” when describing the braid-edged jackets. “Sometimes the jackets are sleeveless, but always braid-edged.”
At the time this coat was produced, the United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics were exchanging art items to be displayed at museums in both countries as a successful attempt at reducing Cold War tensions. The Metropolitan Museum of Art sponsored such a show in December, 1976, which showcased meticulously embroidered peasant outfits alongside the wedding dress of Catherine the Great. In response, society women wore pieces from the Russian Collection to the opening, which only increased the collection’s popularity. When the collection debuted, it was the most expensive fashion show ever produced.
The exterior of this coat is an extremely thick, felted wool dyed a rich, deep purple. The braided trim colored purple and green is also made of wool. The lining is a satin fabric, and there are five purple, plastic, dome-shaped buttons that fasten the coat down the front. The two pockets on the front are slashed pockets with upturned flaps. The coat itself is semi-fitted due to the center seam down the back. The garment is entirely sewn by machine, in keeping with its being ready-to-wear. The design in both construction and appearance is very simple. What stands out is the richly colored purple wool felt accented with the braiding. This trim, run along the front, bottom, cuffs, sleeves and armscye, gives the coat an Eastern European feeling.
The provenance of the coat is traceable to the original owner, Grace Nissman, who purchased it in Chicago according to curatorial records. Neiman Marcus opened a Rive Gauche boutique in Northbrook, Illinois around the time, making it the location the coat was likely purchased at (Hindman, 2021). The woman who purchased it was very aware of the latest trends. Yves Saint Laurent was a name on the lips of anyone with any interest in fashion, and his Russian Collection was hailed as revolutionary. The versatility of this coat also speaks to how useful and wise a purchase it would be, considering that it could be worn appropriately at different times and events. While Rive Gauche was ready-to-wear, it would still have been an more expensive than other available coats.
One of most interesting aspects of the Russian Collection (and the coat, by extension) was its power to sway the public opinion of Russia. Tensions between Russia and the West were still difficult at the time this collection came out, causing it to be met with either of two responses: the Russian Collection was groundbreaking and breathtaking, or it was an outright display of Communist sympathy. The former seems to have become the more accepted idea, as this collection is still celebrated today by museums and fashion historians.
At a time where Russia was not looked upon favorably, Yves Saint Laurent celebrated the country’s art, history, and folklore, reminding the public that Russia had more to offer than what Western countries expected at the time. Not only is this collection a good example of cultural appreciation, it is an example of the impact art can have on everyone. Yves Saint Laurent combined the art of fashion with the art of Russia, making something beautiful on a global scale.
Hindman Auctions. (2021, March 16). Yves Saint Laurent's Peasant Collection, In Search of the Eternal Present. Hindman. https://hindmanauctions.com/blog/yves-saint-laurents-peasant- collection-in-search-of-the-eternal-present#_edn1.
McClendon, E. (2015, March 3). Yves Saint Laurent's Rive Gauche Revolution. Yves Saint Laurent + Halston. https://exhibitions.fitnyc.edu/blog-ysl-halston/yves-saint-laurents-rive-gauche -revolution/.
Morris, Bernadine, “Saint Laurent was Hailed and Adored.” The New York Times, April 7, 1976, page 47.
Morris, Bernadine, “Peasant Luxe.” The New York Times, August 15, 1976, page 49.
Seeling, C. (2000). Yves Saint Laurent. In Fashion: The Century of the Designer 1900-1999 (pp. 354–367). story, Konemann.
Trifonova, E. (2016, August 1). Yves Saint Laurent and Russia: A love affair that continues to this day. Russia Beyond.https://www.rbth.com/multimedia/history/2016/08/01/yves-saint-laurent-and -russia-a-love-affair-that-continues-to-this-day_617065.
The Russian Collection
The Russian Collection,” Historic Textile and Costume Collection, accessed February 5, 2023, https://uritextilecollection.omeka.net/items/show/499.