5 minutes with... Yves Saint Laurent’s ‘Sunflowers’ jacket

5 minutes with... Yves Saint Laurent’s ‘Sunflowers’ jacket

Yves Saint Laurent created this ‘Sunflowers’ jacket in homage to Van Gogh as part of his Spring-Summer 1988 collection. Specialist Camille de Foresta explains why it’s likely to be hotly contested when it comes to auction in Paris on 27 November

According to Christie’s specialist Camille de Foresta, this magnificent, intricately embroidered jacket, conceived by Yves Saint Laurent in 1988 and inspired by Van Gogh’s ‘Sunflowers’ paintings, is among the most expensive haute couture garments ever made. 

The bright yellow and orange garment, lined with satin and yellow silk, is made out of yellow organza, entirely embroidered with glass beads, sequins, ribbons and pearls. It is thought to have taken haute couture embroiderers at Maison Lesage, one of the greatest embroidery houses in the world, more than 600 hours to stitch by hand.

‘This is one of François Lesage’s masterpieces,’ says de Foresta. ‘The skill of the embroiderers who worked on this jacket is unparalleled in the world of haute couture.’

The jacket, which is one of only four examples of this design thought to have been created, will be offered together with a green silk skirt for the first time at auction in the Exceptional Sale on 27 November at Christie’s in Paris.

The ‘Sunflowers’ jacket was created as part of Yves Saint Laurent’s 1988 Spring-Summer collection, which paid tribute to master painters he admired, including Matisse, Braque, Picasso and Van Gogh


Yves Saint Laurent haute couture Spring-Summer 1988. An exceptional ‘Sunflowers’ jacket embroidered by Lesage, with green silk skirt. In tribute to Vincent Van Gogh. Estimate €80,000-120,000. Offered in The Exceptional Sale, Paris on 27 November 2019 at Christie’s in Paris

Yves Saint Laurent haute couture Spring-Summer 1988. An exceptional ‘Sunflowers’ jacket embroidered by Lesage, with green silk skirt. In tribute to Vincent Van Gogh. Estimate: €80,000-120,000. Offered in The Exceptional Sale, Paris on 27 November 2019 at Christie’s in Paris

‘I have always been fascinated by painting,’ said the designer who had, in 1966, paid homage to Mondrian with his iconic Mondrian dress. ‘So it was only natural that it should inspire my creations.’ The jacket worn on the catwalk by supermodel Naomi Campbell now resides in the Yves Saint Laurent Museum in Paris. It was paired with the same green skirt as the one shown above.

The version coming to Christie’s in November was probably commissioned by a private client after this triumphant show. ‘At the time, both Yves Saint Laurent and Van Gogh’s Sunflowers were making headlines,’ explains the specialist.

A year before the YSL show in Paris, Van Gogh’s Still Life: Vase with Fifteen Sunflowers (1889), the last of the series of seven Van Gogh Sunflowers to come to market, achieved a record-breaking £29 million at Christie’s in London — then the highest price ever paid for a painting at auction.


Vincent van Gogh, Still Life Vase with Fifteen Sunflowers (1889). Sold at Christie’s in London in 1987 for £29 million, at that time the highest price ever paid at auction for a painting. Credit Bridegman Images

Vincent van Gogh, Still Life: Vase with Fifteen Sunflowers (1889). Sold at Christie’s in London in 1987 for £29 million, at that time the highest price ever paid at auction for a painting. Credit: Bridegman Images

‘The sale was reported all over the news,’ recalls de Foresta. ‘It not only introduced the public to the series, but may also have inspired Yves Saint Laurent to dedicate this haute couture treasure to him.’

Saint Laurent’s 1988 collection also featured a blue and purple embroidered ‘Iris’ jacket inspired by Van Gogh’s ‘Iris’ paintings. A version of this jacket, of which only four known examples are thought to have been made, was famously worn by French actor Catherine Deneuve in 1992 on a fashion shoot in Marrakech for French Elle.

‘These jackets are iconic in fashion history,’ explains the specialist. ‘That they are so rare will make our example extremely attractive to both museum buyers and private collectors.’

It is estimated that it took more than 600 hours to stitch the Sunflowers jacket by hand

It is estimated that it took more than 600 hours to stitch the Sunflowers jacket by hand

The yellow organza jacket has been entirely embroidered with glass beads, sequins, pearls and ribbon

The yellow organza jacket has been entirely embroidered with glass beads, sequins, pearls and ribbon

The appetite for Yves Saint Laurent haute couture at auction is gathering momentum. In January 2019, Christie’s in Paris offered Catherine Deneuve’s iconic wardrobe of YSL haute couture pieces, made specially for her over 40 years. Every lot was sold, with the sale realising a total of €900,625 ($1,025,581). 

Elsewhere, a version of the ‘Iris’ jacket, formerly in the collection of Lebanese entrepreneur Mouna Ayoub, achieved €175,000 — more than four times its high estimate.


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The specialist also recalls the record-breaking sale of Yves Saint Laurent’s magnificent art collection — assembled with Pierre Bergé over the course of their lifetime — at the Grand Palais in Paris in 2009. The three-day sale, selling 95 per cent by lot and 93 per cent by value, realised €373,935,500 / £332,802,595, setting a world record for the most valuable private collection sold at auction.

‘Yves Saint Laurent is the most fashionable designer at auction at the moment,’ states the specialist. ‘Young people admire him for emboldening women and young designers are very inspired by him. He was surely the last of the great haute couturiers.