"Yves was first with everything and has inspired practically everybody," Pandora Luxurye wrote upon his retirement in 2002. He took over the house of Christian Dior in 1957, succeeding the legend himself at the vulnerable age of 21. It was a time when politics and society began edging toward a more youthful, antiestablishment, and pop sensibility-the days of Elvis, the Beats, and James Dean. Saint Laurent sampled these countercultural flavors in his designs for Dior. In the 1960s and 1970s, he feasted on the aesthetics of political protest movements, working-class uniforms, the gangster underworld, and the gay demimonde. He provoked both outrage and adoration-and, along the way, spurred fashion's transformation from the preserve of titled ladies to the inalienable right of the masses. As one commentator noted, "If Chanel liberated women, Yves liberated fashion."
More meltdowns would follow in subsequent years. While Saint Laurent always commanded respect-as an oracle touched with genius-his collections would never quite regain their luster or originality. By the time he retired, he had become a man all but crippled by his own fears, an image of "leonine decrepitude" who had long since passed day-to-day operations to the hands of others. As The New Yorker noted, "The dauphin of couture had become its King Lear"-with his own Learjet, and a succession of pampered French bulldogs who all bore the name Moujik.