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Fashion great Yves Saint Laurent announces retirement at age 65

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PARIS (AP) _ Yves Saint Laurent, the shy French couturier widely considered the world's greatest designer, announced his retirement Monday and said he would close the legendary fashion house he started 40 years ago.

At a news conference at his Paris salon, Saint Laurent, 65, did not give a reason for his decision, though he said he has been battling ill health and depression for years. He read from a statement without looking up at the reporters packed inside the room.

``I tell myself that I created the wardrobe of the contemporary woman, that I participated in the transformation of my times,'' he said. ``For a long time now, I have believed that fashion was not only supposed to make women beautiful, but to reassure them, to give them confidence, to allow them to come to terms with themselves.

``However, I have chosen today to bid adieu to this profession that I have loved so much,'' Saint Laurent said. He left immediately without answering questions.

The decision means that Saint Laurent's house of haute couture will close, but will have no effect on the ready-to-wear collection of less extravagant, more affordable clothes that bears his name. Italian fashion house Gucci Group NV bought the Yves Saint Laurent label in 1999, and the ready-to-wear line has been out of Saint Laurent's hands since then.

Saint Laurent's business partner, Pierre Berge, said he believed Saint Laurent had decided to retire because he was uncomfortable with the direction the fashion world had taken.

``He no longer feels at ease in a world where people use women instead of serving them,'' Berge said. Alluding to Saint Laurent's status at the top of the fashion world, he added, ``It's not very fun to play a tennis match when you are all alone.''

Saint Laurent was only 21 in 1957 when he was named head designer at House of Dior following the death of Christian Dior. Saint Laurent opened his own haute couture fashion house in 1962.

His early collections were known for their maverick quality: The first YSL tuxedo for women surfaced in the 1966 fall-winter collection and became a fashion landmark.

Saint Laurent possessed a keen sense of what women wanted, introducing stylish, tailored pantsuits in the 1970s that remain a wardrobe staple of working women. But he also introduced the daring see-through blouse.

He tended to concentrate his efforts on the young, and they responded: His ``chic beatnik'' look _ a black leather jacket, knit turtleneck, high boots _ is still seen on the street today.

The designer has often closely guarded his privacy, but his battles with depression and drug and alcohol problems were well known, and he addressed some of his troubles in his statement.

``I've known fear and terrible solitude,'' he said. ``Tranquilizers and drugs, those phony friends. The prison of depression and hospitals. I've emerged from all this, dazzled but sober.''

Saint Laurent thanked French billionaire Francois Pinault, whose holding company controls the haute couture line. Pinault's Pinault-Printemps-Redoute also owns 53.2 percent of Gucci, which in turn owns the Saint Laurent ready-to-wear label and other activities such as perfume, makeup and accessories.

``I want to thank Mr. Francois Pinault and express my gratitude to him for permitting me to put a harmonious end to this wonderful adventure, and we both agree that the haute couture of this house must stop with my departure,'' Saint Laurent said.

The haute couture business represents only a tiny percentage of products sold under the Yves Saint Laurent name. But since the couture business is privately owned, its revenue figures were not publicly released.
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