Designer Yves Saint Laurent dead at 71

Yves Saint Laurent, one of the top fashion designers of the 20th century, has died in Paris at the age of 71.

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The reclusive French maestro, who had retired from haute couture in 2002 after four decades at the top of his trade, had been ill for some time.

“Yves Saint Laurent died Sunday at 11.10pm,” a source atthe fashion icon's Pierre-Berge-Saint Laurent Foundation said.

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French President Nicolas Sarkozy led the tributes to Saint Laurent, hailing the couturier as one of the fashion world's greatest names.

He “was the first to elevate haute couture to the rank of art and that gave him global influence”, Mr Sarkozy said in a statement.

'Elegant accomplice of our daily lives'

“Yves Saint Laurent infused his label with his creative genius, elegant and refined personality, discrete and distinguished, during a half century of work, in both luxury and ready-to-wear, because he was convinced that beauty was a necessary luxury for all men and all women.”

French Culture Minister Christine Albanel said that with Saint Laurent's passing the world had lost “the elegant accomplice of our daily lives… the symbol of luxury and beauty the world over”.

“From his first creations he remained provocative and free, dedicated to liberating women and stamping fashion into the times, the street, into life, creating for this his own ready-to-wear label and breaking the rules of the game of haute couture,” she said.

Yves Henri Donat Mathieu Saint Laurent was born in the coastal town of Oran, Algeria, on August 1, 1936, at a time when the North African country was still considered part of France.

After taking over the Christian Dior fashion house following the death of its founder in 1957, Saint Laurent founded his own company in the early 1960s.

He made his own name on the back of the rise of the youth market and pop culture, fuelled by the economic boom of that decade, when women suddenly had more economic freedom.