Notes on Yves Saint Laurent

It should be expected that I draw significant inspiration from museums, because connected learning was born in informal learning spaces: libraries, museums, fanclubs, and online communities.

There is a Yves Saint Laurent exhibit at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and it did not disappoint.  Most striking was the integrated use of process and product to tell the story. There was very little text (although what was there was choice, encouraging us to consider beauty and fashion through lenses of gender, sexuality, class, and race).  We didn’t read much about YSL’s childhood; rather, we viewed the extensive collection of paper dolls that he cut out as a boy. We didn’t just gaze at a hundred dresses; rather they were surrounded by even more fashion collection boards, fabric swaths, photographs, dress molds, costume jewelry, and coffee table books (YSL was inspired by Velazquez and architects, apparently, as well as Warhol and Mondrian).

Black YSL dress with a intricate tassel statement necklace and rope belt
YSL made it fashionable for women to invest in accessories (to be worn over a simple black) rather than full outfits, an intentional nod to women who had less money.

The dresses were beautiful, of course, but we spent most of our time pouring over YSL’s design process.  I catalogued themes that emerged in his work over time: bows; geometric prints; fabric inlays; pockets; pop art – lips, eyes, faces, body parts.  My husband marveled that YSL maintained the same design process over 30+ years. Same size graph paper.  Same taxonomy & organization.  Only the styles and fabrics changed (sometimes drastically) from year to year.  YSL knew what worked in his process, as suggested by the exhibit’s opening quote: “I am no longer concerned with sensation or innovation, but with the perfection of my style.”

A fashion collection board from the exhibit
One of about a hundred collection boards included in the exhibit. These boards – organized by chronology – were my favorite part of the exhibit. I kept running back to check them as references to other parts of the exhibit.

Interestingly, my kids focused on the exhibit design, specifically the color-coded layout of the exhibit. Kids aren’t stupid, you know.  They notice design – instructional and otherwise.

Anyhow, it’s hard to say how this will influence my current program evaluation and instructional design work – I just know that it will because museum exhibits always do.

Featured Image: My own, @googleguacamole on Instagram


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