The culture of the fashion world

French designer Yves Saint Laurent

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

Bob Moon: I've got three letters for you: YSL. The man behind one of the most legendary monograms in the history of fashion, Yves Saint Laurent, died over the weekend in Paris. He was 71. He leaves a rich, highly influential legacy and will be, as they say, a tough act to follow.

We wondered how an up-and-coming designer today might hope to rise to those heights and so we turn to Kate Betts, editor of Style & Design for Time Magazine.

Thanks for joining us.

Kate Betts: Thank you.

Moon: What are the criteria for making it as a designer these days and how is that changed since, say, Yves Saint Laurent was hired by Dior when he was only 21.

Betts: You know, I think today there is so much financial pressure on designers to perform commercially and especially in America, I think that has overshadowed a lot of the creative aspects and designers, unlike Saint Laurent, designers today are expected to be great businessmen and women as well as great creative talent. Somebody like Saint Laurent had a business partner Pierre Berge who protected him from all of the kind of financial pressures and commercial considerations of the fashion business.

Moon: So what a designer hoping to break in have to do these days?

Betts: Well, I think one thing in America that's really helped a lot of fashion designers, both clothing and accessories, is the exposure on television. When you look at show like "Sex and the City" and what it did for a shoe designer like Manolo Blahnik. You know, it really put his name on the map internationally and especially in America. We've spoken a lot about "Project Runway" and the kind of exposure that those young kids get on that show. I think just coming at fashion from the traditional runway place and trying to make it that way is probably the most difficult thing nowadays. What happened back in Saint Laurent heyday was a lot easier, because fashion was much more of a local, kind of almost cottage industry. You know, French couturiers like Saint Laurent really addressed a French clientele. American designers marketed to am American consumer. So it wasn't the global business that it is today. I think Saint Laurent was the first designer really to reach beyond the borders of his country and to address women on a kind of international scale.

Moon: You mentioned "Project Runway." I have to ask, is that really a serious way to break into the business? How influential is that show?

Betts: I think it's influential in terms of the exposure it gives to the process of fashion and I think a lot of the people who've come out of that show have been relatively successful, maybe not in terms of developing their own name, but in terms of getting started, working for other designers...

Moon: Do we dare say what Yves Saint Laurent would think of that?

Betts: Fashion competitions have existed for a long time and Yves Saint Laurent got his first job as the assistant for Christian Dior by winning the International Wool Secretariat Design Competition with a sketch he did of a cocktail dress. And the runner-up in that competition was Karl Lagerfeld.

Moon: So what goes around comes around?

Betts: Exactly.

Moon: Kate Betts, editor of Style & Design for Time Magazine. Thank you for joining us.

Betts: Thank you very much.

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