“Fashion fades, style is eternal.” So said fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent, whose quotation forms the title of an exhibition at the Bowes Museum. In a tie-in Durham Book Festival event, Lauren Laverne and Laura Craik discussed the exhibition and the life and legacy of the groundbreaking designer. Ellen Orange shares her reflections on their talk.
Branching out from the usual coverage of literature and politics, Durham Book Festival brought us into the world of fashion with an event based on the current Yves Saint Laurent exhibition at The Bowes Museum. This event featured journalist, broadcaster and presenter, Lauren Laverne, alongside fashion journalist and editor, Laura Craik, discussing the work, life and legacy of the iconic designer.
Rather than the traditional format of beginning with an extract from the featured book, this event opened with a short film interview in which Lauren Laverne speaks to Joanna Hashagen, Keeper of Fashion and Textiles at the Bowes Museum, about the exhibition and how it came about. The film was a fantastic way into the subject for the audience, allowing us a visual opportunity to see the works they later referred to, as well as to learn a little bit of background about the show and designer himself. Having not visited the exhibit this was a valuable introduction for me and worked well in place of the traditional reading.
The speakers were introduced and the discussion began looking back at Yves Saint Laurent and his work, notably the breakthroughs he made in fashion and the legacy of these. Laura Craik noted early on how much his work had had an impact upon gender in wider culture; through providing a growing female workforce with designs such as the trouser suit, which has become a workwear staple, to the rise in androgynous fashion which he inspired.
This lead into a wide discussion on the fashion industry and how it operates today in comparison to when Saint Laurent was working in the sixties. Both speakers portrayed an overwhelming sense that the modern fashion industry has nowhere left to progress in the way it did during the height of couture fashion, when designers such as Saint Laurent were working. This feeling was largely due to the commercialisation of the industry, a rise in consumerism and ‘fast fashion’.
This lead to an interesting analysis of the designer’s most famous quote: ‘fashion fades, but style is eternal,’ which the exhibition is named after. The speakers both gave their own interpretation of the difference between fashion and style, looking at ideas such as having a consistent, minimalist ‘look’, to expressing your personality through what you wear.
Continuing to link fashion to wider culture, the discussion dealt with the relationship between fashion and art, gendering of roles in the fashion industry and the relationship between the media and fashion industries today. These discussions provided a really interesting insight into the influence of the fashion industry on the world and the impact even a single designer can have. This made the talk accessible and interesting for those who have an interest in the fashion industry but are not particularly knowledgeable about it.
There was an occasional reference to a type of work, movement or designer which may have gone over the heads of some audience members, myself included, but for the most part the discussion provided a thought-provoking perspective on the fashion industry and the work of Saint Laurent. Laverne and Craik offered the audience a dynamic commentary and insider’s view into what is often seen as an exclusive industry, and also into the deeper meanings and wider implications of Saint Laurent’s work.
Durham Book Festival continues until the 17th October, with many more talks and interviews with leading authors, writers, and poets. See the full programme for more. The Yves Saint Laurent exhibition at The Bowes Museum continues through to 8th November.