Yves Saint Laurent’s Iconic Les Tournesols/Sunflower Jacket

Photo by Guy Marineau

Yves Saint Laurent debated the iconic “Les Tournesols” jacket in his Spring-Summer 1988 collection, where it was modeled by Naomi Campbell. In this exquisite collection Saint Laurent paid tribute through fashion to painters he admired, including Braque, Matisse, Picasso and Van Gogh. 

The les tournesols jacket was created in homage to Van Gogh’s famous still life sunflowers paintings and is one of the most expensive haute couture garments ever made. In 2004 Saint Laurent recalled “I have always been fascinated by painting, so it was only natural that it should inspire my creations.” The vibrant textures, colors and energy of Van Gogh’s sunflower paintings were reflected beautifully through the dimensional layers of beadwork on the jacket. 

Saint Laurent’s Spring-Summer 1988 collection also featured a stunning embroidered “Les Iris” jacket in purple and blue, inspired by the Van Gogh Irises paintings. 

Only four les tournesols jackets were ever created by the haute couture embroiderers at Maison Lesage, which is the world’s top embroidery house. The one worn on the catwalk by Naomi Campbell now resides in the Yves Saint Laurent Museum in Paris, displayed with its matching green silk skirt. 

Photo by Bertrand Rindoff Petroff

It is said that each of these jackets took over six hundred hours to create. They were constructed using yellow organza and are lined in silk. Glass beads, round sequins, rockeries, pearls and ribbon create the stunning sunflower motif covering the outside of the jacket. There is a jewel neckline and button up closure featuring six crystal embedded buttons. 

Image courtesy of CHRISTIE’S IMAGES LTD.

One of the three rare copies of the tournesols jacket is set to be auctioned off Nov 27th at Christie’s in Paris. This piece was commissioned by a private client after the 1988 show. Christie’s specialist Camille de Foresta explained “These jackets are iconic in fashion history. That they are so rare will make our example extremely attractive to both museum buyers and private collectors.” The jacket is estimated to fetch between 80,000 and 120,000 euros. 

Van Gogh’s five paintings of sunflowers are his most famous works. The Van Gogh Museum states “He did them in Arles, in the south of France, in 1888 and 1889. Vincent painted a total of five large canvases with sunflowers in a vase, with three shades of yellow ‘and nothing else’. In this way, he demonstrated that it was possible to create an image with numerous variations of a single color, without any loss of eloquence.

The sunflower paintings had a special significance for Van Gogh: they communicated ‘gratitude’, he wrote. He hung the first two in the room of his friend, the painter Paul Gauguin, who came to live with him for a while in the Yellow House. Gauguin was impressed by the sunflowers, which he thought were ‘completely Vincent’. Van Gogh had already painted a new version during his friend’s stay and Gauguin later asked for one as a gift, which Vincent was reluctant to give him. He later produced two loose copies, however, one of which is now in the Van Gogh Museum.”