PARIS — Sixty years to the day after presenting his first collection under his own name, Yves Saint Laurent, the designer synonymous with French fashion who died in 2008, is once again taking Paris by storm. Or rather, his creations are.

From Saturday to May 15, 50 pieces from the couturier’s vast oeuvre will be presented in the permanent collections of five of the most prestigious French museums: the Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay, the Center Pompidou, the Musée d’Art Moderne in Paris and the Picasso Museum in Paris. And the Yves Saint Laurent Museumin the former headquarters of the designer on avenue Marceau, will exhibit sketches, Polaroid photographs and rare canvases illustrating the processes and know-how that go into the creation of couture.

Organizers say the contemporary exhibitions of “Yves Saint Laurent at the Museums,” 18 months of the pandemic in the making, will be the first time a couturier has been honored in so many classical institutions at once. But it would be yet another of Mr. Saint Laurent’s firsts, including being the first couturier to embrace ready-to-wear, the first to take inspiration from street style and one of the first designers to put on color models on the runway. And that could put an end to the eternal debate about the place of high fashion in high art.

Mouna Mekouar, co-curator of the exhibition and specialist in contemporary art (this will be her first fashion exhibition), said that while fashion and art have traditionally existed in parallel worlds, this separation does not apply more.

“I think that in 2022, we live in a time where we no longer need to ask ourselves the question of whether fashion is art, or whether art is art. “, she said during an interview at Café Beaubourg, in the shadow of the Center Pompidou.

“Today, we live in a multi and transdisciplinary universe made of links, so the old labels no longer really make sense,” she added. “I don’t think you can understand a fashion designer, whoever he is, without taking into account the contemporary creation that surrounds him. Likewise, I don’t think you can understand a contemporary artist without also looking at what’s happening in fashion.

None of the institutions, she said, hesitated for a moment when they proposed the joint show.

The genius of Saint Laurent, Ms. Mekouar said, was that it blurred the lines between fashion and art from the start.

“He looked at various civilizations and art forms and reacted to the art of his time,” she said. “It heralded the arrival of the 21st century. His gaze was pluralistic: there is no hierarchy, just multiple centers of interest.

“He completely assimilated the work of an artist to reinvent it,” she continues. “Even when the reference is direct, there is always a twist of its own. And his work still has meaning all over the world today because he did it before anyone else.

Saint Laurent’s references were so multiple that the exhibition could have gone “in a thousand different directions”, she says. To stay the course, Ms. Mekouar; Stephan Janson, its co-curator; and Madison Cox, President of the Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent Foundation, worked closely with museum directors and curators to mix the selections with each institution’s collections.

At the Center Pompidou, for example, 500 Polaroids of YSL friends, muses and models including Kate Moss, Carla Bruni, Stella Tennant and Naomi Campbell give a table a Warholian air. A dress from Picasso’s Fall-Winter 1979 collection, with undercuts that reflect the work of French artist Sonia Delaunay, is on display in the Delaunay room. A green coat from the 1971 Scandal collection rubs “Made in Japan,” the Pop work of Martial Raysse, a contemporary of the couturier.

Then there are the famous Mondrian dresses of Fall-Winter 1965, which brought Dutch painter Piet Mondrian’s work to the fore to a French audience – a decade before Pompidou acquired “Composition in Red, Blue and white II”. In the exhibition, a YSL Mondrian dress and the painting come together for the first time.

“This project had a particular resonance for the Pompidou”, declared Xavier Rey, director of the museum, “because not only was Yves Saint Laurent the first to link couture to the art he loved and collected, but also because the museum was the place where he chose to say goodbye to fashion, in 2002” — a reference to the couturier’s last fashion show, a 45-minute retrospective. The film of this event will be screened at the museum.

At the Museum of Modern Art, the facilities have been rearranged and the lighting dimmed to accommodate garments that showcase another facet of 20th-century art, with a denim coat dress from the ready-to-wear line. Spring-Summer 1970 Rive Gauche designer wear paired with striped painted panels by Daniel Buren, a former street artist. And at the Musée d’Orsay, which specializes in works from the 19th century, the point of contact is not art, but literature. Marcel Proust, whose works were a source of inspiration for Saint Laurent, is indirectly referenced by one of the designer’s trademarks – Le Smoking, or women’s tuxedo – a nod to the once radical concept of masculine -feminine (currently known as gender fluidity). ).

In front of the large Orsay clock at the entrance to the Impressionist collections, five tuxedos, including the very first Saint Laurent from 1966, as well as two Belle Epoque-inspired dresses. Both were designed for the 1971 Bal Proust – one, worn by Jane Birkin, was crafted in ivory crepe with leg-of-mutton sleeves and guipure lace while the other, modeled by ball hostess Marie- Hélène de Rothschild, was in ivory satin with black trim.

They are all exposed to the view of Édouard Manet’s 1863 painting “Le Déjeuner sur l’Herbe”, or “The Luncheon on the Grass”, another of Mr. Saint Laurent’s recurring obsessions. Further into the Impressionist collections, an alcove dedicated to graphic arts shows sketches of Saint Laurent clothing creations and photos of loyal YSL customers, such as Hélène Rochas, wife of designer Marcel Rochas, in a low-cut black velvet dress of cattleya orchids. in white satin.

In the gold of the Louvre Apollo Gallerywhich houses the jewels of the French crown, four richly embroidered jackets celebrate the glories of France and its know-how.

A Hommage à Ma Maison jacket, a tribute from the designer to his little hands and in organza heavily encrusted with rock crystal and embroidered with gold thread, was on display near the collection of sculpted rock crystal objects of King Louis XIV. A heart pendant made of rhinestones and cast glass, part of the semiology used by Saint Laurent to designate a favorite model during a parade, joined a display of replica jewelry.

Mr. Cox, chairman of the foundation and widower of Mr. Bergé, noted that he thinks Saint Laurent would be delighted with the company his work keeps. “Although Mr. Saint Laurent was perhaps not the most modest person in the world,” he said, “I think he desperately wanted to be considered an artist. He was a missed artist .

Geographically and figuratively, the event covers a lot of ground. Even so, Ms. Mekouar and Mr. Cox said these were just some of the themes yet to be extracted from the nearly 7,000 YSL garments, 50,000 accessories and thousands of sketches of collections, sets and interiors. costumes kept in archives all over France. And that doesn’t include treasures like the more than 250 pieces and prototypes donated to the foundation in 2019 by YSL muse Betty Catroux.

“I hope this type of exhibition can be applied to other places,” Mr. Cox said, “so that we can get out of the idea of ​​the fashion exhibition as we know it.”

Mr. Rey of the Center Pompidou said: “It is our duty to present art in all its forms. Through today’s designers, we see that, more than ever, fashion has a rightful place.