European Fashion Heritage Association

Journal Exhibitions

Object Voices: YSL Gown in Movement

European fashionFrench fashion

This newly acquired Yves Saint Laurent gown finds its place in the escapism section of Modemuseum Hasselt’s current exhibition, ‘We Need to Talk about Fashion’.

A guest post by Modemuseum Hasselt


Garments lead very different lives compared to other visual arts before they come to rest in an archive. Besides their current iconic status these garments moved, were felt and inhabited by people.

Constructed in true Haute Couture style, the salmon pink silk drapes gracefully around the fiberglass mannequin. The original wearer, Charlotte Aillaud (1921-2021), would have had physical freedom to move in this gown, which perfectly alligned with Saint Laurent’s mastery of the interplay between nature and art. In a 1977 interview for the New York Times by Anthony Burgess, Saint Laurent discussed the delicate balance between the body and his creations. He believed that art should never constrain the body; instead, nature would prevail, allowing art to accentuate the body’s freedom. 

Given Aillaud’s role as a prominent host and socialite in the vibrant Saint-Germain-des-Prés scene, as well as her personal friendship with Yves Saint Laurent, this context sheds light on the occasions when the gown was worn. It likely graced elegant parties and soirées, where fashion was not just worn but celebrated as a form of art.

In the exhibition room, the salmon gown is accompanied by several other pieces of elegant eveningwear. During the lifetime of this garment, event dress codes provided an opportunity to conceal oneself for an evening. When emotions and obligations did not align, Aillaud could have chosen to wear this dress, using the theatrical sleeves and the fringes of the skirt to support her gestures, and the iconically contrasting colors of the silk fabric and velvet bow to signify her status, letting everyone in attendance know she was wearing YSL.