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These Couture Coloring Books Are for Grown-Ups Only

Be the Cocteau of Crayolas (or the YSL of CMYK).
Cover Art for Yves Saint Laurent and Jean Cocteau coloring books. All images courtesy of Arsenal Pulp.

To say that the French take their cultural icons seriously is an epic understatement. But a pair of new coloring books for sophisticates might signal a change to all that. Based on the original works of fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent and playwright and filmmaker Jean Cocteau, these tomes from Arsenal Pulp up the intellectual ante on a grown-up playtime trend. With personal sketchbook reproductions, handwritten notes, and full-color plates for comparison and inspiration, these retro books make for artful objects.


It's no secret that painters, sculptors, and especially fashion designers keep the best sketchbooks; and there’s a something particularly charming about croquis and other artistic drawings for garments. The gestural line, the quickness of the swoop and rustle, the swagger of exaggerated mannerist silhouettes captured at the moment of inspiration, before the pragmatism of seams and tailoring set in. Saint Laurent was a particularly gifted sketcher, who in the course of his time as House of Dior’s youngest head at age 21, and from the founding of House of YSL at the age of 25, produced a prolific amount of imaginative avant-garde drawings. Many of these went on to become Costume Institute-worthy sartorial artworks.

Pages from the Yves Saint Laurent coloring book.

Inspired by everything from the paintings of Mondrian and American Pop Art, to the costume-drama operatics of the Venice Carnivale, ultra-modern architecture, elevated folklore, poetry, mythology and ages-old textile culture from Africa, Asia, and Latin America, YSL’s drawings beg to be animated with vibrant color—something he did in spades and with an exacting detail that solidified his more ethereal dress-form sketches into usable plans for executing wearable sculpture. So, no pressure.

Pages from the Jean Cocteau coloring book.

Where YSL’s notebooks themselves are already a coloring book waiting to happen, Jean Cocteau might at first seem a less obvious choice for such a project. He's best known as a playwright and avant-garde filmmaker—especially among throngs of art and film students obsessed with his 1946 masterpiece of magic realism, Beauty and the Beast. But the truth is, the man was a poet, painter, dedicated writer of love letters, and a consummate doodler. His natural playfulness was augmented with more art-historical, personal, and emotional takes on portraiture, still life, and architecture. All of which makes his archive a trove of esoteric and unexpectedly ordinary coloring book source material, from circus clowns to attractive lady-type passersby, wine bottles, gardens, and for some reason, cats, cats, cats.


Pages from the Yves Saint Laurent coloring book.

The Yves Saint Laurent and Jean Cocteau titles are available online from Arsenal Pulp.


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