YSL @ Bowes


I recently agreed to go on a walking trip along Hadrian’s Wall with my mother and her friend. I am not one for the countryside and after taking my Duke of Edinburgh award I swore that I would never go walking up and down hills again. However, I decided to go along with it on the grounds that it promised me a stop over at the Bowes Museum in Barnard’s Castle, Durham on the return home to see the Yves Saint Laurent exhibition that I have been dying to see ever since hearing about it a few months ago.

On entering the Yves Saint Laurent – Style Is Eternal exhibition at Bowes one steps into a world of extreme elegance. The opening room is dimly lit, with thin pieces of sheer, black fabric draped from the ceiling. Through this, one can see some of the beautiful objects that are usually on display in this room at the museum, while also looking at white sketches drawn by the hand of Saint Laurent, which have been printed on top of the drapery. This grand entrance plays host to the beginning of 50 of the designer’s most ground-breaking and memorable garments and also stages a projector showing some of Yves Saint Laurent’s most impressive runway shows.

On either side of this spectacular entrance are two side galleries that present us with an opportunity to get a closer look at the clothes. In one room the Yves Saint Laurent designs are presented alongside the collection of historical fashion from the Bowes collection, which rightfully cements the Saint Laurent pieces in history. Amongst the Bowes collection are some stunning examples of handmade needle lace and clothing worn by clergymen. However, while the Bowes collection had a key role in the show, it was that of the support and did not dominate the Saint Laurent designs at all.

Amongst the clothes on display are the infamous Mondrian dresses and designs influenced by Braque, Cocteau, Diaghilev, Matisse, Picasso and Van Gogh. Other standouts include pieces from the Russian Collection and the Tuxedo. Saint Laurent also made trousers, and his partner (both in business and romance) Pierre Berge has been quoted as saying: ‘If Chanel gave women their freedom, it was Saint Laurent who empowered them’, a sentiment that is certainly confirmed by the garments on display.

As well as clothes, dozens of illustrations, photographs and accessories are also on show. My personal favourite piece is a white gown that has been embellished with black pineapples that I have been pining for since first setting eyes on it inside the exhibition.

The Yves Saint Laurent display is not the only reason you need to take a trip to Bowes. The museum itself is stunning. Driving up to the museum, one is confronted with the most breathtaking building that stands proudly in front of a sumptuous garden. Unfortunately, I did not have nearly enough time to take a proper look around, however the galleries I did have a chance to look inside are overflowing with artistic gems. Among the objects on display is a Silver Swan, which the museum is particularly famous for, and is the museum’s star attraction. The swan is a magical automaton made in 1773 that moves like a luxurious wind-up toy.

Both Bowes and the Yves Saint Laurent exhibition are captivating. Even if you can’t make it to the Yves Saint Laurent show – and I really think you should – you certainly should take a trip to the museum, I promise you won’t be disappointed, in fact, you will be thanking me.

Yves Saint Laurent – Style is Eternal is on display at Bowes Museum until 25 October

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Lizzy Vartanian Collier is a London-based writer with a special interest in contemporary Middle Eastern Art. She has a BA in Art History and an MA in Contemporary Art and Art Theory of Asia and Africa from the School of Oriental and African Studies. She runs the Gallery Girl blog and also writes for After Nyne, Ibraaz and Reorient.

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