“I’m at your disposal, madam,” says a suited and booted chauffeur as he opens the door of a white Mercedes. I’d like to say this level of grandeur is an everyday occurrence, but it’s part of a stylish package offered by spa hotel Rockliffe Hall to accommodate those visiting Yves Saint Laurent’s first major exhibition in the UK.
After a one-night stay that consisted of gluttony every step of the way (afternoon tea on the terrace, dinner, use of the serene spa and a stay in one of their spacious apartments), I check out ready for the next part of the adventure: a private drive to the Bowes Museum in County Durham.
If you’ve got a spare £4,600 to splash, the package can include the full shebang including a helicopter ride and full butler service.
With its Parisian-influenced architecture, the Bowes Museum is an unexpected find in the market town of Barnard Castle in County Durham. But it’s this stunning French chateau-style building, along with its devotion to fashion and textiles, that helped to persuade the brand house to lend the collection to the museum.
Bowes Museum. Yves Saint Laurent: Style Is Eternal pays homage to the man who, to put it simply, invented the modern woman’s wardrobe. The exploration starts with a TV screen displaying clips of the designer’s catwalk collections from across the decades in a dark room where sheer black voiles featuring quotes from the designer such as ‘Fashion fades, style is eternal’ rather cleverly hide the museum’s own artefacts.
Yves Saint Laurent encouraged women to express their true personality in their clothes and this sense of freedom is shown in the exhibition, which doesn’t dictate or guide visitors in the way to view it.
“We could have done a chronological retrospective but I think it’s more exciting to look at the themes of masculinity and femininity, exploring the 1960s, the jumpsuits, the tuxedo,” says Joanna Hashagen, curator of fashion at the Bowes Museum.
While there’s plenty of reference to the designer’s love of haute couture, including three dresses from his Dior days, Yves Saint Laurent was known for dressing the everyday woman, even defining a new style by taking typical male garments and repurposing them for the female wardrobe. Iconic and defining garments such as the first tuxedo in 1966, the first trouser suit in 1967 and the jumpsuit in 1968 affront you.
The exhibition also presents his creative art-influenced years, with a collection featuring his famous Mondrian day dress, inspired by the painting of Piet Mondrian.
The museum has proudly integrated its own textiles alongside Yves Saint Laurent’s,. Five cabinets display one major garment from each of the five themes of the exhibition (Haute Couture, Masculin-Feminin, Transparence, Art and Spectaculaire) and clothing from the museum’s own archive, which was started by John and Josephine Bowes, then pioneers in the field of textile clothing.
But the exhibition isn’t just about presenting Yves Saint Laurent’s past collections in full swing. There are nuggets of extra detail, with interesting videos about the designer and original photos of when he hosted a catwalk at Blenheim Palace and French media cuttings about the show.
Visitors also gain an insight into his creative process with an atelier area filled with toiles, buttons and embroidery, sketches with swatches of fabric attached, and a display of model and clothes cut-outs he created as a teenager.
“He kept everything,” says Hashagen. “That’s what makes the exhibition so rich.” And we’re so much richer and inspired after being let into the timeless and iconic world that was Yves Saint Laurent.
Yves Saint Laurent: Style is Eternal is at the Bowes Museum. Yves Saint Laurent Style Is Eternal until 25 October. Full-price adult tickets cost £13.75
Rockliffe Hall has partnered with the Bowes Museum to offer three stylish packages for the duration of the exhibition. These start from £250 per room per night, for afternoon tea on arrival, bed and full English breakfast in The Orangery, full use of spa facilities and two tickets to the YSL exhibition at the Bowes Museum
More details and booking on the Rockliffe Hall website or phone 01325 729999
Virgin Trains East Coast runs direct services to Darlington from London, the East Midlands, Yorkshire and Scotland. Virgin Trains for standard advance returns from £29