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Marrakesh - Visitors crowded through the doors Thursday as a museum to legendary fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent opened to the public in the Moroccan city of Marrakesh.

The museum's management said 1,000 people thronged through its exhibition halls in the first three hours to get a glimpse of some of Saint Laurent's most iconic creations as they went on display in the city that inspired him.

The opening comes just over a fortnight after another museum to the famed French couturier, who died in 2008, began working at the company's former headquarters in Paris.

The Moroccan project -- housed in a modernist building of traditional rose-coloured ochre bricks -- was a last labour of love for Saint Laurent's former business and life partner Pierre Berge, who died last month aged 86. The pair fell in love with Marrakesh after first visiting in 1966 when the city was hothouse of bohemian freedom that drew artists and musicians from Allen Ginsberg to the Rolling Stones.

Saint Laurent's imagination was fired by the colour and vibrancy that he found in Morocco and he bought a villa in Marrakesh that looks set to be opened to the public next year. "I owe to this country the audacity that has been mine ever since," a quotation by Saint Laurent projected onto one of the museum's walls read.

The 15-million euro (18 million US dollars) museum -- paid for from the sale of the designer's spectacular art collection -- is located close to the lush Majorelle Garden that he and Berge took over and restored in the 1980s. The museum's directors hope to attract some 300,000 visitors in the first year from the tourists that now throng the packed streets of modern Marrakesh. (AFP)

'Inspiration' Marrakesh hosts Yves Saint Laurent museum

A fusion of Moroccan traditions and contemporary flair that inspired Yves Saint Laurent, a museum to the famed fashion designer is set to be unveiled Saturday in his beloved Marrakesh. Following three years of work, technicians carried out final checks in a minimalist exhibition hall at the venue in the city that helped shape Saint Laurent's imagination after he first arrived in the 1960s.

Iconic creations -- from the black "Le Smoking" tuxedo to the Mondrian dress -- will go on display, with the museum hoping to attract 300,000 visitors in its first year after it opens its doors on October 19. "Marrakesh was a place of inspiration for Yves Saint Laurent," said director Bjorn Dahlstrom as he surveyed the last touches being made. The legendary French couturier was entranced by the "ochre city" when he discovered the vibrancy and easy-going atmosphere of its busy streets, overlooked by the Atlas mountains, with his partner Pierre Berge in 1966.

"It was the place of our meeting, of our love, of our work together," said Berge, describing it as "a time when morals were free and sexuality more unbridled". After dedicating his final years to "transforming these memories into projects", the man who was both Saint Laurent's business and life partner, for some 40 years, died aged 86 in September.

Hippy draw

When Saint Laurent came to Marrakesh, he was a designer known for working in black, but he said he "discovered colour" in the city and the traditional dress of the women. Along with Berge, he acquired a villa -- which their foundation also hopes to open next spring -- and in the 1980s took over the spectacular Majorelle Gardens, where a mausoleum was built to the designer after his death in 2008.

Along with his ground-breaking designs, the new museum also contains a wall of photographs retracing reclusive Saint Laurent's life and career, accompanied by the voice of his friend, the actress Catherine Deneuve. Marrakesh and its UNESCO-protected Old City is now packed with tourists from all over the world.

But back when Saint Laurent and Berge first arrived it was a draw for hippies and artists -- from the Beatles and the Rolling Stones to beat poet Allen Ginsberg -- attracted by the bohemian freedoms and drug-fuelled party scene.

'From scratch'

The museum to Saint Laurent is housed in a contemporary building of rose ochre brick that intends to evoke both the traditional Moroccan culture that influenced Saint Laurent and his ground-breaking modernity. Funded by the money from the sale of YSL and Berge's remarkable art collection, it combines orientalist paintings from Jacques Majorelle, who died in 1962, with works by current artists from Morocco and the Middle East.

And while Berge -- the driving force behind the museum did not live to see it open -- it still bears his indelible stamp. "He saw everything, he followed it all from the beginning," said Berge's widower Madison Cox, who now runs the Pierre Berge-Yves Saint Laurent foundation. "This was a first for Pierre Berge, to build something from scratch. He rebuilt offices and houses, but here there was nothing except for an empty space." (AFP)

Photo: Studio KO, Musee Yves Saint Laurent, Marrakesh

Gender is new battleground in culture wars

With a wave of films, television series and art shows championing "gender fluidity" -- and catwalks awash with "gender neutral" models and clothes -- the old dividing line between the sexes is being increasingly called into question.

But as the blurring of boundaries has gone from the margins to being a progressive cause, the political temperature of the debate has risen sharply.

Gender fluidity has become a hot-button issue in the culture wars between liberals and conservatives, often reduced to newspaper stories over "which bathroom somebody chooses," said Johanna Burton, curator of the exhibition "Trigger: gender as a tool and a weapon" which has just opened at New York's New Museum.

"It is very much an exciting moment, but also a scary moment politically... Gender is in the forefront of people's thoughts right now," she added. "I think people have considered the limits of the binary construction of gender for a very long time, but only recently has it made the newspapers every day."

Gender is new battleground in culture wars

No one has put gender issues out there more than Bruce Jenner, the former decathlete and erstwhile member of the Kardashian clan, whose transition to becoming Caitlyn in 2015 pushed the subject into the mainstream. Time and National Geographic magazines have both devoted their covers to the transgender debate.

And later this month Conde Nast, the publishers of GQ, Vogue and Vanity Fair, will launch a new glossy magazine aimed at LBGTQ people (lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgender and questioning).

Transgender stars

Hollywood too has played a part. First the Wachowski brothers, creators of "The Matrix" movie franchise, became the Wachowski sisters and then they cast transgender actress Jamie Clayton as a hacker in their hit Netflix series "Sense8".

One of the first places trans issues stepped out of the shadows was on stage. And next year's Avignon festival in France, the world's biggest theatre gathering, will be on the theme of "gender, trans identity and transsexuality".

"Gender doesn't exist anymore," according to Guram Gvasalia, the business brain behind fashion's ultra-hip label of the moment, Vetements, whose collections are all mixed.

"Man or woman, we can choose what we want to be," insisted Gvasalia, whose brother Demna Gvasalia designs for both the label and Balenciaga, where he has carried on the relaxed attitude to gender.

On the catwalks of Paris, New York and Milan, brands now regularly show "mixed" collections and many market their clothes as "gender fluid".

Philosopher Thierry Hoquet calls this the "Conchita Wurst phenomenon", after the bearded Austrian drag queen who won the Eurovision Song Contest in 2014. "Today some people mix masculine and feminine characteristics, and they do not need to be coherent," he said. While the author of the book "Sexus Nullus" claimed these "gender pirates" are very rare, he believes they are also very influential.

Anti-gender' backlash

But this new emerging reality is not to everyone's taste. "There is a political battle being waged right now on the territory of gender," said the American historian Joan W. Scott, a specialist in women's history and gender studies.

"The 'forces of order' and 'anti-gender' groups -- the Vatican, religious fundamentalists, populists, nationalists, even some in the centre and on the left -- have organised to stop the spread of the idea that gender is fluid or flexible and always mutable," she said.

US President Donald Trump was quick to realise it was a hot-button issue which could shore up his conservative base. He banned transgender people from serving in the US Army in August and insisted on calling trans whistleblower Chelsea Manning a "he".

An uncrossable divide?

In France, large protests against the legalisation of gay marriage in 2013 included slogans like "Hands off our stereotypes!" They also spawned a movement to protect "traditional family values" and roles which later helped fuel a furore over false claims that a "theory of gender" was being taught in schools.

French sociologist Marie Duru-Bellat said that while trans issues have been embraced in the arts world, in society at large "there has been a hardening of attitudes", and a reinforcing of the idea of an uncrossable divide between men and women.

She said some Catholic groups are holding "masculinity support" workshops and pointed to how gender stereotypes are still very strong among children. "There are a lot of people for whom equality is about men and women complementing each other," said the academic, who wrote "La Tyrannie du Genre" (The Tyranny of Gender). "So for them, you cannot touch traditional gender models."

(AFP)

Photos: Gucci SS18, Catwalkpictures

Exhibit at New York's MoMA looks at iconic garments

The Museum of Modern Art is staging an exhibit of iconic clothing and accessories to examine the relationship between fashion and society.

On display are 111 high-impact items like Levi's 501 jeans, the little black dress, the sari, the pearl necklace and even tattoos -- all part of the cultural heritage of the West and elsewhere in this century and the 20th. In MoMA's first exhibit on fashion since 1944, the show features garments that seem timeless, like the Panama hat.

But it also includes items from everyday life or those denoting religious affiliation, such as the yarmulke for Jewish men and the headscarf for Muslim women. The exhibit is called "Is Fashion Modern?" It opens Sunday and runs through January 28.

It provides a chance to recall how certain garments symbolized what was considered modern in a given period of history. Although curators say the show is about objects, rather than their designers, the influence of Yves Saint Laurent permeates. His "Le Smoking" -- the first tuxedo for women, introduced in Paris in 1966 -- crystallized the evolution of women's status and their aspirations in life. Saint Laurent's signature black boots and espadrilles are also on display. Modernity was also the very 1960s futuristic aspiration of Paco Rabanne and his aluminum dress, and that of Pierre Cardin as seen in his bold Cosmos dress.

Fashion is also modern simply because it reflects the spirit of the times. This show looks at fashion's relationship to everyday street life and all that it inspires. The best illustration, however, is the powerful world of sportswear, born far from the catwalks of New York and Paris but now nestled intimately in every layer of society.

To wit: Converse All Star sneakers, sports jerseys, Lacoste polo shirts and track suits are all part of the show, and basics of many people's wardrobes. To accompany the exhibit, MoMA commissioned the manufacture and marketing of several garments based on beloved clothing from the past, such as a Breton sailor-style shirt by Armor-Lux of France and a seamless sweater by Issey Miyake. (AFP)

Photo: Jackie Mallon for FashionUnited

Key Dates in Yves Saint Laurent Life

Ahead of the opening of museums in Paris and Marrakesh dedicated to the work of Yves Saint Laurent, here are some milestones in the life of the fashion icon.

Starting out

  • He is born on August 1, 1936 in Algeria's Mediterranean city of Oran and named Yves Mathieu-Saint-Laurent.
  • In his late teens, he moves to Paris in 1954 to study design and wins three of the four first prizes in the prestigious International Wool Secretariat competition for rising fashion talent.
  • In 1955 Saint Laurent is hired as a design assistant by Christian Dior. Two years later, when Dior dies unexpectedly, he is appointed chief designer.
  • Making a name

  • His first solo collection for Dior, in 1958, is the Trapeze Line of narrow shoulders and wide skirts that receives rave reviews, launching his name. The same year he meets future lover and business partner, Pierre Berge.
  • He and Berge start living together in 1961 and found the Yves Saint Laurent (YSL) luxury couture house.
  • His 1966 spring show features the first tuxedo for women, upending the rules at a time when most women did not wear pants. The first Saint Laurent ready-to-wear shop opens on Paris' Left Bank the same year.
  • The "safari look" and first see-through dress cause a sensation at his spring collection of 1968.
  • 1971, in his mid-thirties, he poses naked for an advert for his first fragrance for men, "YSL pour Homme".
  • His perfume for women, "Opium", is launched in 1977, to become an enduring worldwide success.
  • In 1983 Saint Laurent becomes the first designer to have a retrospective dedicated to his work in his own lifetime. The exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum in New York is visited by a million people.
  • Towards retirement

  • YSL is sold to French industrial group Elf-Sanofi in 1993 for $650 million.
  • Gucci completes a takeover of Sanofi, parent company of YSL, in 1999 and appoints Tom Ford as creative director.
  • Saint Laurent marks the 40th anniversary of his fashion house on January 22, 2002, and formally announces his retirement, bringing down the curtain on an unparallelled career.
  • He dies on June 1, 2008 at his home in Paris, aged 71, suffering a brain tumour. His funeral is attended by celebrities and some of the biggest names in fashion.

(AFP) ​

Photo: Musee Yves Saint Laurent ​

Museums give peek into secret world of Yves Saint Laurent

Yves Saint Laurent was one of greatest yet most private fashion designers of the 20th century. Now only weeks after the death of his partner and lover Pierre Berge, the hard-nosed business brain behind the legend and the keeper of the flame, some of the creator's innermost secrets are coming to light.

The first of two new museums dedicated to his memory opens in Paris on Monday as a raft of new books and documentaries -- including one on his erotic drawings -- attempt to decode the mysteries of the painfully shy man who revolutionised women's fashion.

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The Paris mansion where Saint Laurent shook up the dress codes for more than three decades has been turned into a museum for his haute couture creations. A much larger museum, also paid for by the foundation set up by Berge to safeguard his partner's legacy, opens next month in Marrakesh, the Moroccan city the couple loved and where Saint Laurent would often first sketch out his collections.

"Coco Chanel liberated women, but Yves Saint Laurent gave them power," Berge once said, by appropriating the symbols of power from the male wardrobe -- dinner jackets, safari suits and jumpsuits -- and remaking them for women.

Inner sanctum

"I had noticed men were much more confident in their clothes," Saint Laurent once said in a rare interview. "So I sought through trouser suits, trenchcoats, tuxedos and pea coats to give women the same confidence." His black tuxedo for women, known as "Le Smoking" -- often wore over bare flesh -- caused a scandal in 1966, with the New York socialite Nan Kempner dropping her pants when she was told by a Manhattan restaurant that women in trousers would not be admitted.

Saint Laurent would later design a jacket as a thigh-skimming mini dress just as Kempner, one of his best customers, had worn it. The heart of the new Paris museum is Saint Laurent's studio, the inner sanctum where he would work night and day in the run-up to his shows. It remains just as he left it in 2002, his desk festooned with photos of his inner circle of glamorous female friends which included Catherine Deneuve, Bianca Jagger and Paloma Picasso.

Pride of place, however, goes to a New Year's card he made from a painting his friend Andy Warhol did of his French bulldog Moujik. One wall of the room is completely mirrored, which allowed Saint Laurent to work directly on his live models so he could see his creation from all angles as it progressed.

The museum also gives revealing insight into Saint Laurent's creative process, developing his clothes from very basic sketches into complex designs that, in the case of some of his haute couture creations, could take thousands of hours to make.

Berge's enduring devotion

"Unlike many other designers Saint Laurent began systematically archiving his work in the early 1960s -- encouraged by Berge -- and so we can follow the evolution of each item," said a spokesman for the museum, which holds a treasury of 5,000 prototypes for his creations. Other rooms in the museum are given over to Saint Laurent's inspiration and the "imaginary voyages" his collections often took to Asia, Africa and most famously Russia.

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But other than his sojourns in Morocco -- which reminded him of his native Algeria where he was born in 1936 while it was still French -- the designer was not much of a traveller. With Berge he built up a considerable art collection and he borrowed liberally from artists like Picasso, Matisse and Van Gogh, most famously with his Mondrian dress, which became an instant pop icon when it hit the catwalk in 1965.

Berge always believed that Saint Laurent -- who had begun his career by stepping into the shoes of Christian Dior when he was just 21 -- was nothing less than an exceptional artist, calling him "the greatest designer of the second half of the 20th century". Having "spent all my life helping Yves Saint Laurent build his work, which I want to last", Berge died earlier this month, just weeks before the museums opened.

His husband, the American landscape artist Madison Cox -- whom he married this summer -- told AFP that "10 days before he died he told me that 'I am going to die totally at peace', and I think that was true. He was a very determined man and he had put everything in place." Cox said the museums were also a tribute to Berge's work supporting and protecting the fragile Saint Laurent, who was haunted by drug and drink addictions.

"Of course I and the whole team are profoundly sad that he will not be here," added Cox, who now heads the pair's charitable foundation. "But he would have wanted that we go on." (AFP)

Image: Studio KO, Musee Yves Saint Laurent, Marrakesh

Brazil's Candomble religion pushes back against intolerance

Rio de Janeiro - When Brazilian fashion designer Rogeria Ferreira was told to remove the turban she wears as a member of the African-inspired Candomble religion for an ID picture, she decided to fight back: the turban was her identity.

"For many people, it's just a piece of cloth, or fashion," said Ferreira, 36. "But this turban represents my ancestors. If I go outside without one, I feel naked. I feel humiliated." She had no choice last year when she was told to remove the headgear, since she urgently needed a new Rio de Janeiro identity card. But in Candomble, the turban serves to protect the "ori," which is the head but also the person's sacred force.

So she took legal action, claiming "racial and religious prejudice," and in March had her prayers answered when the Rio state prosecutor general said that any headgear "worn for reasons of religion conviction" will now be allowed in official photographs. That victory was just a small battle in what Candomble faithful say is growing oppression against a religion based on traditions brought by African slaves that incorporates aspects of Catholicism.

Only 0.3 percent of Brazilians identify with Candomble, according to state statistics, but it holds a rich place in Afro-Brazilian culture. With their white clothes, music and special dances in which worshippers traditionally believe they are possessed by Candomble gods called "orixas," Candomble faithful are part of the popular imagination. At New Year's, huge crowds of Brazilians dress in Candomble white and perform a ritual on beaches, while another Candomble festival honoring the queen of the sea Iemanja is also widely attended.

Evangelical backlash

But there's been a series of ugly incidents that illustrate rising intolerance against the minority religion. In late August, a 65-year-old woman from an African-inspired faith had stones thrown at her in the Rio suburb of Nova Iguacu. More recently, two videos emerged on social media showing apparently evangelical men forcing Candomble worshippers in Rio to destroy their sacred objects.

In early September, thousands of people from different faiths protested next to Rio's Copacabana beach against the attacks, which some blame on Brazil's ever-growing evangelical Christian community. The Roman Catholic archbishop of Rio, Cardinal Orani, supported the Sunday march, as did representatives of Jewish, Muslim and other faiths. "We are all equal before the law and in the eyes of the Creator," said a big placard at the protest. Some link the darkening mood to the new mayor of Rio, Marcelo Crivella, who is also a bishop in the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, an evangelical megachurch founded by his uncle. In the past, he has spoken harshly about gays and Catholics, and since taking office he has been seen as unfriendly to both Candomble and the city's annual carnival.

"Our country is secular, but we are returning to a time of the Inquisition," Adriano, a Candomble priest, said at the protest. Evangelicals also took part in the march to support religious tolerance. Attacks are done by "minorities," said Edson Garces, 30, who belongs to a Baptist church in Baixada Fluminense, a strongly evangelical area outside Rio. But Garces said the mayor, who was elected last year, needs to show leadership. "Although he doesn't appear as promoting this absurd intolerance, he creates a favorable atmosphere for the ignorance behind it," Garces said. (By Carola Solé / AFP)

Photo: YASUYOSHI CHIBA / AFP

The US model and actress Emily Ratajkowski has called out a French magazine for reducing her lips and breasts in a photograph for an interview which deals with the discrimination she says she has faced for "being too sexy".

"I was extremely disappointed to see my lips and breasts altered in Photoshop on this cover," the 26-year-old star of "Gone Girl" told her near 15 million followers on Instagram. "Everyone is uniquely beautiful in their own ways. We all have insecurities about the things that make us different from a typical ideal of beauty," she added.

"I hope the fashion industry will finally learn to stop trying to stifle the things that make us unique and instead begin to celebrate individuality." The interview with the model, who shot to fame with her appearance in Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams's controversial video for "Blurred Lines", in the Madame Figaro magazine Saturday concentrated on how she had faced discrimination from directors for her smouldering looks.

"There's this thing that happens to me: 'Oh, she's too sexy'," Ratajkowski was quoted as saying in an earlier interview with Harper's Bazaar. "It's like an anti-woman thing, that people don't want to work with me because my boobs are too big. What's wrong with boobs? They're a beautiful feminine thing that needs to be celebrated," she said. "Like, who cares? They are great big, they are great small. Why should that be an issue?"

Madame Figaro's cover image of Ratajkowski wearing a black leather beret and an open coat appeared to have been altered to thin her lips and lift and reduce the size of her breasts. Ratajkowski posted the original photo on Instagram to show the differences, and her withering reaction was "liked" nearly half a million times by other users Monday, with many praising her for protesting.

The row comes within days of a new French law coming into force which will oblige advertising agencies and media companies to indicate if an image has been retouched. Madame Figaro did not reply to AFP requests from comment. (AFP)

The Life & Career of Manolo Blahnik:'The Boy who made Shoes for Lizards'

INTERACTIVE London - Women around the world all recognize the one of kind feeling you get when you put on a pair of Manolo's.

Manolo Blahnik, for those less familiar with the footwear designer, has been hailed as the 'King of Shoes' for the past four decades, as everyone ranging from editor-in-chief at American Vogue Anna Wintour to supermodel Naomi Campbell and singer Rihanna swear by his designs, and his designs alone. "I can't even remember the last time I wore anyone else's shoes - I don't even look at them," proclaims Wintour in the trailer for the new documentary 'Manolo: The Boy who made Shoes for Lizards.'

Directed by British fashion writer, artist, and life-long friend Michael Roberts, the biopic is set to premiere on September 15. The film features archival footage, intimate interviews with Manolo himself as well as interviews with fashion insiders, such as Anna Wintour. photographer David Bailey and designer John Galliano. To mark the launch of the documentary, FashionUnited's shares some of the high points from Manolo Blahnik life and career.

Homepage photo: Manolo Blahnik in Manolo: The Boy Who Made Shoes for Lizards. Courtesy of Music Box Films

"Beyond Seeing" explores sensory fashion design

What does fashion feel like, smell like and sound like? With "Beyond Seeing", a research and exhibition project, the Goethe-Institute Paris explores innovative ways of fashion design that brings together the students of four renowned fashion schools from Germany, France, Sweden and Belgium and blind and visually impaired participants. The resulting works are stunning creations in between fashion and art, which will be presented for the first time at the ESMOD Graduate Show in Berlin on 14th September.

"The project is intended to make fashion discernible beyond the visual stimuli through interaction of sensory perceptions. Different target groups who never met before - students of design, blind and visually impaired participants as well as experts of different artistic disciplines - will be brought together for the first time in order to develop innovative design concepts," states the project's press release.

Given that sight provides 80 percent of all human perception, the research project explores the question of how blind and visually impaired people perceive fashion under those circumstances, being excluded from a whole universe of mass media images of fashion. 'How do they deal with the fact that they cannot see what is worn on the streets or how other people will react to the clothes they are wearing?', 'How do they experience colours, fabrics and surfaces?', 'What do they perceive that we fail notice or no longer do?', 'What does the term beauty mean for them?' and 'How can fashion be experienced with other senses than the visual one?' are some of the other questions "Beyond Seeing" explores.

"Beyond Seeing" explores sensory fashion design

The four participating fashion schools are ESMOD in Berlin, IFM – Institut Francais de la Mode in Paris, La Cambre in Brussels and the Swedish School of Textiles in Boras. Altogether, 50 sighted and non-sighted people came together to participate in the project, which was kicked off with an incentive conference in October 2016 in Paris. Experts from various disciplines – seeing or not seeing – introduced the participants to the overall project in talks and lectures. The project was initiated by Silvia Kadolsky, founder and CEO of ESMOD Berlin, and Katharina Scriba, program curator at Goethe-Institut Paris, while Francine Pairon is the educational and artistic direction.

"Beyond Seeing" explores sensory fashion design

In February and March 2017, research workshops took place in all participating countries to develop in a participatory and dialogical process creative approaches of how fashion can be experienced beyond the sense of vision. A creation workshop in Berlin marked the third phase, in which the design and fashion students developed innovative concepts together with the seeing and not-seeing participants.

The fourth stage of the project focuses on the participants presenting their creations in a transdisciplinary and interactive exhibition with the aim of creating a multiple sensory experience. The visitors – seeing or not seeing – will touch, hear, smell and taste as well as experience and interpret fashion beyond the visual aspect.

In addition, a large program of events is planned. In January 2018, "Beyond Seeing" will be presented for the first time in a transdisciplinary and interactive exhibition at the WIP at the Parc de la Villette in Paris. After the opening event in Paris, the exhibition will be shown in Borås, Berlin and Brüssel in 2018.

Photos: courtesy of Beyond Seeing