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Yves Saint Laurent Dies at 71

Yves Saint Laurent's Spring/Summer 2008 Collection.Photos: Getty Images

The fashion industry woke up to shocking news this morning: Yves Saint Laurent, the legendary fashion designer passed away yesterday at the age of 71. After a long battle with brain cancer, Saint Laurent died at his apartment in Paris.

"One of the greatest names of fashion has disappeared, the first to elevate haute couture to the rank of art," said French President Nicolas Sarkozy to the AFP.

Yves Saint Laurent was one of the most influential designers of the 20th century. At the age of 21, the Algerian-born designer took the helm at Christian Dior, succeeding Monsieur Dior himself, launching himself to the forefront of fashion. While his career spanned 45 years, Saint Laurent is credited with changing the way women dressed, including the shift from haute-couture to ready-to-wear sportswear.

Throughout his career, Saint Laurent looked to youth for his inspiration, taking cues from street fashion and bringing youthful and utilitarian styles to the runway. He elevated beatnik style, safari style and leopard prints, created the iconic "le smoking" tuxedo jacket for women, and designed entire graphic collections inspired by the work of Miro, Matisse and Picasso that still inspire designers today. In many ways, Saint Laurent set the bar for his contemporaries and many of today's biggest names use similar tactics for creating their collections (See also: Marc Jacobs' collaborations with Murakami, the narrowing divide of street and high fashion, etc.).

"Saint Laurent was the first to look at youth and street culture and take elements and make them chic," Marc Jacobs told Women's Wear Daily. "I and a couple of friends always say, 'How would Saint Laurent do it?' It's a little, funny gauge of a thing being right, a kind of standard for chic, for youth, for sex appeal without vulgarity and overall beauty."

While Saint Laurent retired in 2002 and since passed the torch on to some of today's marquis designers, including Tom Ford and Stefano Pilati (pictured with Lucy Liu), Saint Laurent's influence will continue to live on for decades to come.

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