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Legendary designer Yves Saint Laurent dies at 71

Elaine Ganley

PARIS — Yves Saint Laurent, one of the most influential and enduring designers of the 20th century, will be remembered for empowering women through his fashion, a longtime friend and associate said.

Saint Laurent died Sunday at his Paris home following a long illness, said Pierre Berge, Saint Laurent’s business partner for four decades. He was 71.

“Chanel gave women freedom” and Saint Laurent “gave them power,” Berge said on France-Info radio. Saint Laurent was a “true creator,” going beyond the aesthetic to make a social statement, Berge said.

“In this sense he was a libertarian, an anarchist and he threw bombs at the legs of society. That’s how he transformed society and that’s how he transformed women.”

In his own words, Saint Laurent once said he felt “fashion was not only supposed to make women beautiful, but to reassure them, to give them confidence, to allow them to come to terms with themselves.”

Saint Laurent was widely considered the last of a generation that included Christian Dior and Coco Chanel and made Paris the fashion capital of the world, with the Rive Gauche, or Left Bank, as its elegant headquarters.

From the first YSL tuxedo and his trim pantsuits to see-through blouses, safari jackets and glamorous gowns, Saint Laurent created instant classics that remain stylish decades later.

Designer Tomy Hilfiger said he was saddened by the loss of such a legendary talent.

“He was a creative genius who changed the world of fashion forever,” Hilfiger said in an e-mail to The Associated Press.

“Mr. Saint Laurent revolutionized modern fashion with his understanding of youth, sophistication and relevance. His legacy will always be remembered,” said Calvin Klein designer Francisco Costa.

Saint Laurent was born Aug. 1, 1936, in Oran, Algeria, where his father worked as a shipping executive. He first emerged as a promising designer at the age of 17, winning first prize in a contest sponsored by the International Wool Secretariat for a cocktail dress design.

A year later in 1954, he enrolled at the Chambre Syndicale school of haute couture, but student life lasted only three months. He was introduced to Christian Dior, then regarded as the greatest creator of his day, and Dior was so impressed with Saint Laurent’s talent that he hired him on the spot.