The death of fashion designer Yves St. Laurent June 1 reminded me of the time I met him in Beijing.
The year was 1985. I was working for the French bank, Banque Paribas, based in Hong Kong. During one of my business trips to Beijing, the French cultural commission staged a retrospective of Yves St. Laurent’s haute couture. This fashion expo was typical of the classy way the French export their culture. It was pretty crazy thing to do in 1985.
After an utterly futile day at the office, we “French bankers” were hanging around the Jianguo Hotel lobby — where all the foreign expatriates met for drinks.
A fascinating-looking entourage suddenly burst ’round the hotel’s revolving glass door. It was St. Laurent and his coterie. As they milled around the hotel elevator bank — fabulously — I approached YSL, introducing myself as the China representative of Banque Paribas and officially welcoming him to China. En francais. He was lovely, if somewhat dazed. (I’m sure that had nothing to do with my French.)
This poster, which hangs on my wall, commemorates the occasion.
The double entendre of the poster is
- it’s “branded” in the YSL purple-and-red color scheme, and
- it features a celebrity portrait of YSL by Andy Warhol.
Apropos Andy Warhol … a fellow Pittsburgh native … when I was in Pittsburgh this past weekend, my high school French/Chinese teacher, Arthur Manion, took me to visit Warhol’s grave.
Warhol would be 80 years old if he hadn’t perished — shockingly, pointlessly — following gall bladder surgery at New York Hospital in 1987. Someone put a soup can on his gravestone.