The Musée des Arts Decoratifs on the edge of the Tuilleries Garden by the Louvre has a line running back through the rain towards the metro station. Umbrellas are up and people are edging forward in orderly French fashion for the exhibition on Dior. But for the moment, for us, Dior (in exhibition) can wait (runs until January 2018). We’re here for the book signing of esteemed French fashion journalist Laurence Benaïm on ‘Dior par Yves Saint Laurent’. We pass the queue and enter through the gift shop…
To the pleasant sound of (Moet) popping, we browse the gift/bookshop and notice the book an instant hit with a trail of bright faced Parisians and internationals waiting for a signing by Benaïm. We’re on a vernissage trail (art openings mostly happen on Thursday night in Paris) so I snap a quick insta pic, grab a card and leave the author to her fans.
A few days later, in a café on Boulevard Haussman, Laurence Benaïm tells me about the book, her awe of the passion in fashion and how she thinks the yearning for beautiful things is back…
“Olivier Bialobos the director of communication at Dior launched the idea of publishing a series of books on all (seven) designers who had worked at Dior since the beginning in 1947,” she says. The first was Dior by Dior and this is the second. Photography is by Laziz Hamani and Benaïm was an easy choice of authors, having a tonne of books under her belt including the first and official biography of Yves Saint Laurent- writing about his birth in Oran, Algeria up to his domination as the ground changing Parisian based fashion icon (Grasset publications).
“For me this book is exciting because while I write a lot about Dior and about Yves Saint Laurent, this is about the two of them in a sense” says Benaïm. Through plunging into the archives of Dior as well as her own archives from 30 years or writing, she tried to tell the story of each dress. “What I’ve written is a series of portraits of the dresses, piecing together the six collections signed YSL for Dior between 1958 and 1960- a year before he went on to create his own fashion house.”
“I wanted to show the power, the extraordinary colours, the energy and the passion of Yves Saint Laurent at Dior and how it was both in line and at the same time breakaway. He really invented. While Dior created fashion, for YSL it was about style.”
YSL was suddenly not just talking to clients but to the world while at the same time having his eye on the street fashions, and fashions of his era, says Benaïm … starting with his black blazers, then onto his dramatic make up… “He was 8 years ahead of what became the Rive Gauche style with the mix of colours- reds, purples and oranges… there’s a type of Yves Saint Laurent passion that splices into the more Bourgeois side of the Femme Dior. He dares!”
But why is the book interesting today? Benaïm believes that people are wanting afresh to have and see beautiful things- the proof being the surge of apps such as Instagram. “People are desiring beautiful books, clothes, images” …and this book describes what the author likes most- text with meaning and richness, culture, beautiful images, stunning layout.
And she’s been otherwise busy! It’s one of four books out around the same time by the author, the others being Versailles and Fashion (Rizzoli International), Christian Dior in the South of France: The Château de la Colle Noire (Rizzoli New York) and a biography of decorator Jean-Michel Frank (Grasset).
Benaïm’s own passion in fashion came young, admiring her grandfather who was a hat maker. “I’ve always been fascinated by the handwork for one, and then by all those who are completely passionate towards this work- all those in the energy of the fashion house.” It’s not the runways or the parties but rather the behind the scenes work of the creators that hold her attention and her plume. “I always had that respect which has been nourished by the people I met along the way, especially by Yves Saint Laurent.”
Dior by Yves Saint Laurent is published by Assouline. Grab a copy here.