Yves Saint Laurent, 1936-2008

As you've probably heard, Yves Saint Laurent died yesterday at 71. The cause was revealed to be brain cancer, but we were pleased to learn that both his longtime companion, Pierre Berge, and longtime muse, Betty Catroux, were at his side. (As WWD reports, there is a rad Parisian funeral to come.). Naturally the obits are flying - am I the only person in the world who didn't know he was Algerian? - detailing Mr. Saint Laurent's accomplishments and petitioning for couture sainthood. After the jump, a minor digest of obituaries, plus a somewhat major rant over the NY Times' inability to come out and call a spade a spade.

What exactly is the New York Times' problem? The paper describes young Yves Saint Laurent as a sensitive boy "who avoided all sports but swimming and developed a love for fashion and the theater at an early age...As a teen-ager, he designed clothes for his mother, who had them whipped up by a local seamstress."

In other cliched words: three-dollar bill.

Contrast this with Agence France Press: "A shy lonely child born to a well-off family, he was taunted over his homosexuality."

Ditto the Telegraph: "At school he was beaten up by the other boys for his obvious homosexual leanings. He was so nervous that he was sick every day; he found solace in a land populated by elaborate cut-out paper dolls."

Sometimes The Times is like my mom: in an attempt to avoid anything remotely impolite, or imply that it's not totally cool with his being gay, it just obfuscates to the point of making everyone uncomfortable, and here it succeeds in making his sexuality something tacitly indelicate by implication. (Then it kind of slips his "partner" in as a matter of course later, which somehow makes the whole thing worse.)

Rant over.

Anyway, you obviously don't need me to tell you that YSL was the reigning roi of fashion: wunderkind, visionary, radical, elder statesman - you name it. He single-handedly popularized trousers, trenches and parkas - to say nothing of the iconic smoking - and pushed fashion from couture into ready-to-wear. He was behind essentially every trend of the latter-20th century and defined the template of luxe, casual sexiness to which we still adhere today. Like all the best designers, he seemed to genuinely love women (skeletal muses notwithstanding) and his clothes showed it.

But beyond any of this, he defined the designer as the romantic: a reclusive, Proust-reading, depression-suffering, fabulously wealthy, tortured genius, shadowed by vague tragedy - and a stone-cold bespectacled fox.

Perhaps a lot of the romance that clings to this mysterious figure and other 'icons' of his stripe is the sense of lost possibility. In our world, where we can only hope to 'reference' and 'allude' and recycle with varying degrees of irony and homage, it seems incredible to think of a time when one man could create so much - when there was so much left to be created. Maybe that's why his death makes me extra-sad - it's not like I'm decked out in vintage safari here, after all.

Yves Saint Laurent Funeral Set for Thursday[WWD]

Yves Saint Laurent, Fashion Icon, Dies at 71[New York Times]

Fashion Icon Yves Saint Laurent Dies at 71 [AFP]

Obituary: Yves Saint Laurent [Telegraph]