Heritage luxury houses are struggling to communicate their prestige to today’s younger set of customers — a missed opportunity, considering the new generation of shoppers is said to seek out brands that have a real story behind them. To demonstrate its decades-long legacy, the Musée Yves Saint Laurent, located in Paris, has brought a collection of 7,000 garments, accessories, drawings, inspiration boards, press clippings and photographs online.
“We want to tell and show people how an old couture house works, what’s involved in the creation of couture, who worked there, what goes into the relationships between workers and press and clients,” said Olivier Flaviano, director of Musée Yves Saint Laurent. “In a sense, it’s a fashion museum, but it’s also a history museum: Yves Saint Laurent and the garments are all a historical part of the 21st century.”
The physical museum, located in Paris, opened its first exhibition in March. But it’s only 4,800 square feet, with limited space to tell the biographies of both Saint Laurent himself and Pierre Bergé, the house’s co-founder, as well as display the complete set of 7,000 garments, 2,500 sketches and artworks, and 500 photos from the archive, dating back to 1961. The museum began working with Base Design about a year and a half ago to transport the items from the archive to a digital format, with video and audio components. The site is also mobile-friendly and free to access.
For the archive of Saint Laurent’s fashion collections, however, Flaviano said that the goal wasn’t to onboard the entire archive onto the site at once. While online visitors can find the designer’s full collections of clothing designed for theater performances and movies, the fashion collections will be shown on the site corresponding to pieces of editorial content that are published. The stories, Flaviano said, will be about specific trends, Saint Laurent’s time as a designer for Dior, and the years Saint Laurent and Bergé spent living in Morocco.
“What was amazing for us was getting a chance to navigate through the archive and the dresses, and be able to see and discuss how it could come alive through the site,” said Jacques Letesson, managing director at Base Design. “All this content is there, it’s just about waiting for the right time to be shared in the right editorial form. Usually content is always what’s difficult to come up with. Here, it’s there to be taken. That’s the key difference — this ability to democratize the content for everyone.”
The stories that break down the archives into a series of chronicles recounting the history of the Yves Saint Laurent brand use photographs, audio clips and videos to capture specific moments in time or categories of work, like theater costumes.
“Our mission is to conserve the history of the house; the brand’s mission is to sell clothing,” said Flaviano. “Those are obviously not the same. But where they can intersect, we work with the brand to make sure they do so.”
While the museum wants to eventually get the full breadth of Yves Saint Laurent’s fashion collections online, it’s an undertaking that Flaviano said is going to take time.
“We eventually want everything he designed to be online, but doing that inventory and digitizing the fashion collections is a long, long process,” said Flaviano. “So we use stories as our approach.”