̶ Vivienne Westwood’s got that in common with Sonia Rykiel. They’re both self-taught, as it turns out. I’m sure that’s no coincidence.
̶ Are you suggesting their style comes from their lack of schooling?
̶ Indirectly, yes. They abhor perfection. They’re original.
̶ You do like that theme, don’t you? Kahn, Manet, Satie…
̶ I do…
You bet I can see that woman, the one I have been pursuing for twenty years, the one who tempts me, hiding behind fabrics, baring a shoulder, slipping on her dress inside out, turning it right side out and then jilting me to run after that man who was eyeing her. She is beautiful, elusive, quiet, calm, but when I think I’ve caught her, she is already gone dancing from one bank of the Seine to the other, a coin struck on one side with ‘Woman’ and on the other with ‘Man.’ She kicks off her shoes, crosses the bridge with outstretched arms and eyes lifted to the sky, wears men’s sweaters with tight skirts or ample slacks with close-fitting pullovers, unpicks her hems, dresses warmly in April, lightly in May.
Not knowing how, I was able to do otherwise. My creation knows no stages, just odd moments, a skirt, a pullover, a dress. Fashion, like history, parades, all lights turned on it. It spangles and glitters, studded with silver and gold. It sparkles from head to foot, bursting out triumphantly, gloriously, luxuriously, demented flesh, trailing skirt, hooked-up bra, a long string of dummy pearls, gilded shoes, bare legs, bare head, bare chest. It is said that everything may be read in a face; me, I reckon that all may be read in clothes, but if the face is supposed to be radiant, clothes come alight only when the body moves.
He who utters the word fashion knows not what he says. Lean closer to hear the rustle of fabric, the words of the artist, his passion for dress. Lean even nearer to see that he is not destroying but having new thoughts, repositioning, reworking, reshaping the same form on which he has already thought, positioned, worked, shaped, everything being drawn from the depths of the eternal and essential memory he has of the object already conceived long ago. The first sweater and the second, the third and the thousandth and that of tomorrow, all related like the pages of the same novel, a distorted unfinished text seeking a companion for the next season, neither too distant nor too near, unbuttoned in the right place, slit on the proper side. Are we not destroying fashion, chasing it around like this? Every six months, a kick in the behind; it enters through the main portals and is made to exit down the back stairs. It climbs in again through a window, skirts longer, more mobile, closer fitting. It lasts merely the time of a Summer and leaves wider, padded at the shoulders. It’s Winter once more. It’s molded, draped to the ground, coat upon coat, absurd. Could we not evolve rather than destroy, work on clothing like one works on a book and avoid, we the creators, being ‘consecrated’ or ‘desecrated’ every half year?
I wonder if it is you or I who dictate fashion. If it be not you compelling me to shorten, lengthen, widen, remove the belts, lengthen again, no more red but some yellow and blue and then red again. If you are not there, you, behind me to see that I unstitch the hems or overstitch them, that I sew on beads, spangles, and even flowers, if you don’t push me to tighten the waist or lower it onto the hips, to remove the petticoats, add flounces, to show the stitching and to hide it, if one season you revel in luxury, sumptuosity, gilt, and then another season in despair (which is not black but rather a look), if you don’t pull me apart to attach, tuck, close or open, draw aside to peep at skin, the luster of the flesh, the texture of the fabric, pull the threads to gather the material, fold the muslin to imitate a book. If it be not I on the couch and you on the chair and that naturally, without appearing to, it’s you who dictate fashion.
Style is the difference between one who creates and gives life to a work and one who creates a work without giving it life. It is the folding and unfolding of a work in time. You stitch, you unstitch, you shape, you unshape, you reshape, you create. To build, construct, invent and destroy, put into place, a moment, a dress, a page, a line. Before, after, to find the beginning of the dress, the part which touches first, which caresses. Author, actor, that which is seen and that which remains, that is work. I erase, I scratch out, I turn the page. That’s luxury. Then I return to my old sweater, my old skirt. That’s even greater luxury. Nothing marked me out for dress designing except a knack of organization, mixing, disrupting, and destroying truth. Create an illusion, but convincingly, opening out in the fold, flaring out, caress the seams to reveal the body and then fold them in again to play with the slits, the openings. Light, color, shadow, not necessarily black but a gray edged with red like a November sky. Woman is institution and what’s good about institution is to be able to break away from it.
This garment comes from very far away. I had never seen it, I have always known it. It comes from the origins. It comes from the trace of the immemorial origins in the farthest depths of my memory, where memory does not remember itself, has no images, is still nothing more than the movement of life. This garment comes from an Orient, from an East always beating in the heart of the inside. It goes back to a beginning, emerges on my surface, and it is: East. What is this internal Orient? Nothing exotic. The most intimate part of myself, the ancient restless and tranquil site, where the body felt itself take its first steps. This garment is native; its model: the body’s internal sensation of itself, the secret of the body. Sonia Rykiel designs this sensation. I go to Sonia Rykiel as one goes to a woman, as one goes home. As one goes to a closet-friend; which is to say: I go inside, eyes closed. With my hands, with my eyes in my hands, with my eyes groping like hands, I see—touch the body hidden in the body.
The nonviolence of these clothes: Sonia’s clothes never turn back against the body, never attack it, never seek to put one in one’s place. They don’t conceal, don’t forbid. There are shield-clothes, mirror-clothes, shimmering, dazzling clothes, clothes which both attract and repel the gaze, clothes of the armor species, clothes which remold the body to a precise measure, to perfect composure, clothes which adorn. I have had some. Few. I never liked them. I donned them to go to war. Sonia’s clothes are for peace. For skin which breathes like animals in the field. Not loving the gaze. They give themselves to be lived. At Sonia’s, as in my home. I enter the tender ancestral tent, and in its peaceful and near shelter, I become friendly, I am her friend and the friend of the world. It is a question of an alliance, a marriage, an accord: of the arch of the feet with the sand, of the flesh with the water. I enter the garment. It is as if I were going into the water. I enter the dress as I enter the water which envelops me and, without effacing me, hides me transparently. And here I am, dressed at the closest point to myself. Almost in myself.
I say: the dress. I call every garment ‘dress.’ And I only wear pants and pullovers. Yet I hold myself to this inexactitude: because it is into a ‘dress’ that the two pieces translate themselves, into a single enveloping curve in which the apparently separate pieces of the garment melt together. The water opens up, and closes again. The dress doesn’t separate the inside from the outside, it translates, sheltering. Light enchantment of a metaphor that doesn’t erase its source. Sonia Rykiel fabricates the dream of the body: to freely be of a body with the legs, the belly, the thighs, the arms, with the air of the sea, with space. I said a dress, a single dress. For there is only one of the truth. One dress but full of dresses. A dress which holds innumerable dresses within itself. A musical dress, which gives birth to thousands of notes. A dress which bears a kyrielle or stream of garments in its folds. Magic of the anagram [rykiel—kyrielle]. What is there in some names? A kyrielle of names, of fateful signs, prophecies. There are names which sybillate and play with the ears. The name Sonia Rykiel, I mean her sonorous dress, is Sa Robe, ‘Her Dress,’ full of a range of sounds, signs, of innumerable issue. There are names condensed like dreams: a bouquet of syllables whose opening out sends the hundred sounds bounding back to the cardinal points of the imagination.
Yves Saint Laurent
Models and Dogs