The eponymous brand was founded in 1962 by designer Yves Saint Laurent and his partner, Pierre Bergé. The brand’s logos were designed in 1963 by A. M. Cassandre. During the 1960s and 1970s, YSL popularized the beatnik look, safari jackets, tight pants, and thigh-high boots.
In 1966, YSL debuted Le Smoking, a tuxedo suit for women. In an attempt to democratize fashion, YSL began producing ready-to-wear in 1966, with its launch of Rive Gauche and is considered to be the first to popularize the concept. YSL’s designs often featured designs influenced by traditional Chinese clothing, as well as themes from Pop Art, Ballet Russes, and Picasso. Saint Laurent is credited with initiating the broad, shoulder-padded style in 1978 that would go on to characterize 1980s fashion.
The brand expanded in the 1980s and early 1990s with men’s and women’s fragrances and its cosmetic line in 1978. However, by 1992, the company’s profits were in decline and its share price had fallen. In 1993, Saint Laurent was sold to the pharmaceutical company Sanofi. In 1997, Pierre Bergé appointed Hedi Slimane as collections and art director and relaunched Rive Gauche Homme. Slimane departed two years later to head couture menswear at Dior Homme. In 1999, Kering purchased YSL and hired Tom Ford to design the ready-to-wear collection, while Yves Saint Laurent himself would design the haute couture collection. Designs by Tom Ford For YSL were chosen Dress of the Year by the Fashion Museum in 2001 and 2004.
In 2002, after years of poor health, drug abuse, depression, alcoholism, and criticisms of YSL designs, Saint Laurent closed the couture division of YSL. “Chanel freed women, and I empowered them,” Saint Laurent was quoted, reflecting on his career and impact on fashion, “I created the contemporary woman’s wardrobe.” In 2004, Tom Ford departed the company, and Stefano Pilati, an Italian-born designer became creative director. Yves Saint Laurent died of brain cancer in 2008. The following few years proved to be tumultuous for the company, with YSL stores closing in the key U.S. markets of San Francisco and New York (including the company’s Madison Avenue location, its first-ever store in the United States). In January 2010, its Chicago boutique on Oak Street also closed.
In 2012, Kering announced Hedi Slimane replaced Stefano Pilati as creative director for YSL. Slimane previously worked with Dior Homme until 2007. In 2015, Slimane announced he would revive Yves Saint Laurent’s couture line. In 2016, Slimane left Saint Laurent and Anthony Vaccarello was appointed creative director, a position he still holds as of August 2022. In 2019, Saint Laurent launched its lifestyle-brand Rive Droite, in which exclusive merchandise, collector’s items, and curated experiences are made available at Paris and Los Angeles.