Yesterday, I visited the restoration atelier at the Musée Yves Saint Laurent in Paris. Normally, the restoration ateliers aren’t open to the public, but this fall the museum organized three special visits.
This incredible opportunity is only open to 15 people per visit. The tour began at 6:30PM after the museum closed, so we were the only visitors in the museum. We started in the restoration atelier located directly above Saint Laurent’s studio. This location is important in the building because Saint Laurent constantly sent things back and forth between the two spaces.
Yves Saint Laurent’s Sketches (‘Croquis’)
This particular atelier is filled with sketches (‘croquis’) done by the order of Yves Saint Laurent. Each couturier has a unique style for designing, therefore the sketches are all different. Yves Saint Laurent’s original sketches are in a separate room with different security measures in case of fire. Sketches for over 15,000 accessories and jewelry pieces are in a third room.
Pierre Bergé had the passion and vision for sharing Saint Laurent’s artistic work through expositions in museums. Thus, they had the forethought to store detailed sketches with fabric swatches in “bibles” for the museum. Each “bible” has sketches by season. The sketches are incredibly detailed and show the hairstyle and accessories that Saint Laurent envisioned with the look for the runway show. Each sketch also has a fabric swatch.
Yves Saint Laurent’s Fabric Colors
The fabric swatches are not exposed to light in order to preserve their original color. The conservationists rely heavily on the fabric swatches to match the colors when restoring a peice. Once a fabric changes colors, the damage is irreversible.
Next, we saw a set of colored sketches. These pastel sketches are far less detailed than the black and white ones. In fact, they aren’t at all technical. Saint Laurent used them as a way to express color and inspiration. We learned that many of them remained sketches.
Yves Saint Laurent Restoration Atelier Team
The restoration team relies heavily on the use of direction cards in order to avoid errors. The direction cards include stapled fabric swatches, trim detailing, and pricing.
Musée Yves Saint Laurent Paris has a limited budget to purchase pieces because they already have so many. They are especially interested in acquiring runway pieces and their main competition is foreign museums. The museum buys pieces online and from private collections. They recently acquired three of Catherine Deneuve’s haute couture pieces.
It’s difficult for the museum to compete with Dior, but they do buy pieces from when Saint Laurent was Creative Director at Christian Dior. From his time at Dior, Saint Laurent learned to arrange his ‘planches’ in chronological order for the runway shows.
During restoration work, the atelier suspends pieces from forms that are specifically fitted for each item. This method is the safest way to not deform the clothes.
Musée Yves Saint Laurent Paris
The group toured the museum with the conservationist following the visit of the restoration atelier. I loved seeing the museum without the crowds.
The conservationist explained so many fascinating details about Saint Laurent’s studio. Saint Laurent’s desk has many personal objects on it. She told us the meaning behind the posters on the walls and the books in the shelves. Her incredible knowledge and passion for the subject was palpable. The conservationist truly made the experience unforgettable.
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