Tuesday, 8 January 2013

notes à la mode 26

On Saturday I said goodbye to a dear blog friend, Mary Jo Matsumoto of Trust Your Style, who came for a visit and of course fell flat for the beauty of Luxembourg. It was such a joy to show her Luxembourg City, chat over lattes at cafés and introduce her to my family. Mary Jo is one of those multitalented and strong women who let nothing stop them. One of the things she does is designing beautiful bags. Before she arrived I was already in love with her design, but now after viewing them and touching the fabric I have to admit that my love has turned into a form of obsession. In her bag she had this beautiful black clutch made of stingray and calfskin that I haven't stopped thinking about since she left. She was also carrying one of her totes and the leather felt so soft. I now wish I had them in all colours!

After saying goodbye to Mary Jo at the airport, I took the children to the city where we went to the library and other places. I borrowed the book Yves Saint Laurent: A Biography, written by journalist Alice Rawsthorn. You know the feeling when you start reading a book and you just want to continue until you finish? That's how I have been feeling since I read the prologue on the train back home.

The prologue actually left me sad. I knew that the late designer had dealt with anxiety and other issues, and had been somewhat a nervous rack after his experience in the army, but it's painful to read the details of his story. This is a guy who at twenty-one became the head designer of Dior after Christian Dior passed away in 1957. His first collection - the 'Trapeze' line - for the fashion house was a hit and this already fragile young man was thrown into the spotlight.

In 1960 he was called to serve in the French army and in September that year, after only nineteen days of training in regimental barracks outside Paris, he had a nervous breakdown and was admitted to a military hospital. He lost his position at Dior, who gave it to Marc Bohan, their designer at the London couture house. After fifteen days at the hospital he was said fit to return to the army, but 'to avoid the risk of embarrassing publicity if he had another breakdown, the military authorities intervened and sent him off for further treatment at Val-de-Grâce, a mental hospital in southern Paris. It was there that his real nightmare began' (p. 48).

Just the description of that hospital makes my blood turn cold. Yves, 'half hysterical and half despairing' (p. 49), tried to escape when he was admitted to the hospital and after that he was pumped with drugs that have since then been banned because of harming side-effects. There are no records of the doses he was given that left him 'too sedated to move' (p. 50). He was also exposed to shock treatments. When he was released on 14 November 1960, he was discharged from the army, as he was unfit to serve.
The weeks of worry before he went into the army had ground him down and his misery in the barrack led inexorably towards a breakdown, but his incarceration at Val-de-Grâce was the final blow. It was too much for Yves at a time when his spirit was shattered and he was doped up by drugs, his physique weakened by weeks without proper food or sleep. The after-effects would haunt him for the rest of his life. (p. 51-52)
We all know that he later founded the YSL fashion house with his partner Pierre Bergé and became one of the leading designers of the twentieth century. One can only imagine how different his life could have been had he never experienced that terrible autumn of 1960.

photo credit:
Lisa Hjalt


  1. Oh my Lisa, now you've got me hooked, I must get a copy and read this book! Thanks for sharing.

  2. I've read about Yves Saint Laurent's life (I still haven't reviewed a book I read about him a few months ago), but nothing that described so in detail his period in the hospital after his military service. Sometimes I don't know if it's right to dig so much into someone's life.

    1. About that last comment. I have had the same thoughts and I always come to the conclusion that it depends on how it's done. If an author has some kind of a hidden agenda and is doing harm in some subtle or overt way then I don't like it at all. To me, this author feels more pro-Yves than neutral. I haven't finished the book but I already feel that I understand his character better. The book is well researched so it has a lot of history. It's feels to me to be so much more than just a biography of Yves.

  3. oh my goodness, i knew none of that! i think if i was in the military i would breakdown too - i can't imagine how much more anxiety provoking and detrimental the experience of his "treatment" was. but how amazing with all that he was still able to go on and do such great things. very inspirational. thanks for sharing that, i, too am going to have to put that on my reading list.

  4. Goodness :( what a horrible time that poor man went through. I had no idea.
    So glad you shared this review with us; I'm very interested in the book now.

    So glad Mary Jo got to enjoy Luxembourg through your eyes...I'm sure you both enjoyed it!


  5. I am happy your visit with Mary Jo Matsumoto went so well, her bags sound gorgeous.
    Yves Saint Laurent's life had so much tragedy, there are many things we do not
    know about the lives of others. The public face does not always reveal much.
    I for one am very private about my personal life which has been full of painful challenges. It amazes me how some people can pour out their hearts on blogs, this is something I could never do.
    Maybe this is why my blog is so boring!!!

    Have a happy week Lisa.


  6. sounds like a very interesting book to read and I will try to get hold of a copy. thanks for the tip!

  7. Her bags are fabulous!!! I am always surprised to see how people can find Luxembourg so attractive, I have been here for so long (forever) that I don't see the beautiful sides anymore. I didn't knew YSL had such horrible experiences while serving in the army. It must have been terrible time for a young man... Thanks for sharing, I might look for this book (another one on my list ;-)


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