OLIVIER CHÂTENET, The maestro of style

The maestro of style

Olivier Châtenet has worked as a fashion designer for the biggest fashion houses, from Alaïa, Thierry Mugler to Hermès and has launched his own brands, Mario Chanet and E2. During all those years he has built an outstanding collection of vintage fashion and he has one of the biggest and most important collection of Yves Saint Laurent vintage.

Travelling with his vintage collection all around the world curating exhibitions, working as a style consultant for fashion and cinema, he knows all about the perfect cut and has an incredible sense of style.

Where does this big interest for Yves Saint Laurent come from?

When I started to work in fashion in the 80s, Yves Saint Laurent was not at all a brand that I was interested in. At that time his brand has become very classic and bourgeois. The image of Yves Saint Laurent in the 80s was very much about this working girl in her blazer and the straight-cut short skirt.

My passion for his fashion came much later when I started to look for the ultimate perfection of style. And it’s true.

“When you look at some of the pieces that Yves Saint Laurent has designed 30 or 40 years ago, I wouldn’t say they’re modern but just incredibly perfect.”

There is something really timeless about his fashion. Even nowadays I see girls wearing old YSL blouses.
It might seem very classic nowadays but Yves Saint Laurent main concern was that women felt beautiful in his clothes.

Yves Saint Laurent said “A woman is never as feminine as in a man’s suit.” 


“The contrast between the man’s suite and the woman who wears it enhances her femininity even more.”

Yves Saint Laurent was constantly in quest of THE perfect piece of garment. So in the 60s he observed that the renewal cycle of men’s fashion was much slower, that men’s clothes were much more sustainable.

That’s why he took a lot of pieces from the men’s wardrobe and adapted them for women, like the smoking or the trench coat.

“He often said that he wished he had invented blue jeans because they were just perfect. They were nonchalant, simple and had sex appeal regardless of age, sex or season.”

What was the secret behind Yves Saint Laurent’s creative genius that revolutionized fashion?

“To me Yves Saint Laurent was without any doubt the biggest stylist of the 20th century, but not necessarily the biggest fashion designer.”

He didn’t invent anything. He observed really well and had this extraordinary sensibility to know what women really wanted. His celebrity was built on fashion that already existed, his talent was to observe, to adapt, and to propose at the right moment.

In 1971 when everybody still thought that fashion needed to be inspired by future and needed to look futuristic, Yves Saint Laurent broke this rule and got inspired by the past by showing his famous 40s collection. This collection was a huge scandal and had a very strong impact. It was the beginning of the retro-style. But he didn’t invent it. In the 2nd half of the 60s you can already see this retro-style in fashion shootings in English Vogue showing models wearing clothes of London based designers such as Ossie Clark or Biba.

“Apart from being an excellent styliste he knew perfectly well how to use communication and his image in order to  create, as you would call it today, a huge buzz.”

The best example is the photo of him naked taken by Jean-Loup Sieff in 1971 for the launch of his first fragrance for men. It was huge! Looking at the context of that time it was totally new and revolutionary that a designer used his own image for the promotion of his brand.

Let’s talks about your vintage collection and your  collaboration with Bertrand Bonello on his movie “Saint Laurent”. How was it to work as a style consultant on this project?

It was an amazing experience! It’s initially me who got in touch with Bonnello. I heard about his movie project so I took immediately the phone and left him a message. The next day he called me back, we met two days later and then the collaboration started.

First he gave me the scenario to get my advice and then I met Anaïs Romand, the costume designer. We worked very hard and tried to be as precise as possible. I also gave her all the iconographical material for the reproduction of certain pieces. I was working especially during the preparation phase of the movie and during the shootings of the most important scenes, such as the scenes of the fashion shows.

The best reward for this hard work was when Anaïs Romand won the French film Award, le César, for her costume design for “Saint Laurent”. I was so happy for her!

Besides this film experience and your work as a consultant for the biggest fashion houses in Paris, you’ve also done some exhibitions with your vintage collection in France and abroad, for example the “Crazy about Yves” exhibition in 2012 in Hong Kong. How was the reaction of the Asian public?

The reaction was very enthusiastic. Hong Kong is a young and modern city, so the concept of vintage fashion is very new to the Chinese public.

The “Crazy about Yves” exhibition was shown during the 20th anniversary of the French May Festival. It was the first time that I had total carte blanche for an exhibition and I’ve never shown my collection on such a large scale before.

“Even though he didn’t travel that much, Yves Saint Laurent was very much inspired by Asia in his “imaginary journeys”. When he launched his fragrance Opium his idea was to create a perfume for the Empress of China.”

That’s why the final part of the exhibition was a sort of a “tribute to China” dedicated to his creations from 1970 to 1980 that had an Asian influence.

Is there a quote of Yves Saint Laurent that inspires you?

“The most beautiful clothes that can dress a woman are the arms of the man she loves.”

This quote shows perfectly well his sincere and true admiration for women.

What comes to your mind when you think of Iran?

I think of Farah Diba and divine beauty.

Olivier Châtenet’s portray on “Home” page by Christophe Roué
Olivier Châtenet’s portray of article by Angèle Châtenet
– Exhibition “40 silhouettes composées d’archives YSL”, Galerie 7.5 / Paris, 2014
Pieces with prints from 1970 – 1978
– Exhibition “Un regard sur Yves Saint Laurent”, Dinan / France, 2017
Pieces inspired by the safari jacket from 1968 – 1975
– Exhibition “40 silhouettes composées d’archives YSL”, Galerie 7.5 / Paris, 2014
Pieces with prints from 1971 – 1983
– Portray of Yves Saint Laurent by Jean-Loup Sieff, 1971
– Catwalk scene of Bertand Bonello’s film “Saint Laurent”
– Exhibition “Un regard sur Yves Saint Laurent”, Dinan / France, 2017
Pieces of the “China” collection, Saint Laurent Rive Gauche Autumn / Winter 1979/80
– Exhibition “Golden Needle”, Joyce / Hong Kong 2016
Pieces by Dries Van Noten, by Marni and vintage
– Exhibition “Golden Needle”, Joyce / Hong Kong 2016
Pieces by Marc Jacobs and Junya Watanabe/Comme des Garçons
Text: Anahita Vessier
Translation: Anahita Vessier

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