After Nyne Meets Joanna Hashagen..Curator Of The UK’s First Ever Yves Saint Laurent Retrospective

The first ever UK retrospective of Yves Saint Laurent’s illustrious catalogue of works is currently open at the Bowes Museum in County Durham. A coup for the region, and as blockbuster as you would expect it to be.

After Nyne couldn’t wait to get behind the scenes of the show, and sent Kirsty Morris Welsh to delve into the mind of curator Joanna Hashagen.

Bowes Museum Curator Joanna Hashagen
Bowes Museum Curator Joanna Hashagen

Joanna, let’s set these questions in context before we get onto the actual show. You’re Curator of Fashion at the Bowes Museum. What are the main responsibilities of your role?

Looking after a historic collection of dress and textiles, spanning 16-20th centuries, which includes researching, displaying and publishing aspects of this 15,000 strong collection. Since 2011 my key role has been to deliver a varied temporary exhibition programme in the new Fashion & Textile Gallery, which received a national Museums Heritage Award. It has included contemporary designers – Vivienne Westwood Shoes 1973-2011, and in 2012 Stephen Jones: From Georgiana to Boy George.

There have been site specific works by artists inspired by the collections and focus exhibitions on items in the collection such as a 1912 wedding dress by Lucile. In 2013, I curated an exhibition, Henry Poole & Co, Founder of Savile Row – The Art of Bespoke Tailoring and Wool Cloth celebrating the skill of the tailor and the quality of British cloth. Last year we exhibited an exhibition from MoMu, Fashion Museum Antwerp, on feathers in fashion, Birds of Paradise.

Saint Laurent’s body of work is extensive and reaches back many, many years. How long has the exhibition ‘Style is Eternal’ been in the making? What do you take as the starting point with a show of this scope?
Over two years of discussions with Fondation Pierre Berge – Yves Saint Laurent following an invitation to discuss the possibility after The Bowes Museum lent one of its Canaletto’s to an exhibition in Paris. I had my first meeting at the PB YSL Fondation in Paris in Feb. 2013, which was the starting point

Screen Shot 2015-07-30 at 17.33.21‘Style is Eternal’ is the first exhibition in the UK to present a comprehensive display of Saint Laurent’s work and life. Why was the Bowes Museum chosen as a venue? Did you have to go through a special selection process?

That first meeting was to persuade them that we were the location best suited to the first YSL retrospective in the UK. Where better to present it than in a French Chateau, with magnificent art collections? They heard my arguments and then showed images of museum to M. Berge, afterwards and he said yes.

I explained that had been thinking for a while that for fashion, we wanted to go in a ‘French Direction’ and feature a French couturier. We have strong links with France, especially Paris. Our founders lived there; John Bowes married Joséphine Coffin Chevalier (1825-1874), who was a fashionable Parisian, buying her clothes from Charles Frederick Worth (1825-1895), the father of Haute Couture. Together they built this French Chateau in the north of England, to house their European collection of fine and decorative art. Pierre Berge liked idea of having a dialogue with our collections, the first time they have considered this.

What do you hope visitors will take away from the exhibition?

That Yves Saint Laurent’s creative talent was prodigious. Saint Laurent’s influence can still be seen on any high street, he has endured as one of the best-known and most influential couturiers. The most famous part of his great legacy are the trouser suits, jump suits and safari jackets which still look perfectly modern today, despite being created in the 1960s. Saint Laurent designed these practical styles for women,   but also created beautiful, romantic dresses in the most luxurious fabrics. He empowered women, yet with a style that always retained their beauty and feminity.

Screen Shot 2015-07-30 at 17.34.46How was the experience of curating ‘Style is Eternal’ compare to other projects and exhibitions you’ve worked on?

Fantastic experience! Biggest challenge but very exciting! To work with top French exhibition designers, Agence NC, be able to look at the amazing archives in the YSL Fondation and select the exhibits. To work on the catalogue with London designers, Here, to select the images and for them to make a beautiful book was really a highlight for me.

Do you have a favourite piece in the exhibition?

The exhibition features his Tuxedo of 1966, the first evening suit for women. It revolutionised women’s evening wear, known simply as ‘Le Smoking’ and was hugely successful for his Rive Gauche ready to wear label. It was Yves Saint Laurent who recognised the changes happening in the 1960s. He tapped into to the emerging youth culture, creating a new, easy to wear wardrobe for modern women, very different from the strict dress codes their mothers had to live by. Saint Laurent felt couture was too elitist and in 1966 launched Rive Gauche, in order to offer his style to the woman in the street.  Hugely successful in Paris, the London store opened in 1969.

If you could encapsulate Saint Laurent’s influence on the world of fashion in a single sentence, what would it be?

Yves Saint Laurent’s style is timeless – in his own words ‘fashion fades, style is eternal’.


Yves Saint Laurent – Style is Eternal 

Until October 25th

The Bowes Museum | Barnard Castle | Co Durham | DL12 8NP

Buy your tickets here