Designer Yves Saint Laurent, credited with changing the face of female fashion, has died in Paris at the age of 71.

Pierre Berge, the designer's long-time business partner, said Saint Laurent had passed away on Sunday night, following a lengthy illness.

The Algerian-born creative was credited with irrevocably transforming feminine couture, introducing a timeless trend for trouser suits and safari jackets.

"Gabrielle Chanel gave women freedom. Yves Saint Laurent gave them power," Berg told France Info radio.

"Like all creators, Yves Saint Laurent had two faces, a public face and a private face.

"In this sense he was a libertarian, an anarchist and he threw bombs at the legs of society," he added. "That's how he transformed society and that's how he transformed women."

French president Nicolas Sarkozy said Saint Laurent had been the first designer "to elevate haute couture to the rank of art and that gave him global influence" while Tommy Hilfiger told the Associated Press news agency that Saint Laurent had been "a creative genius who changed the world of fashion forever".

Saint Laurent was discharged from his national service in 1960 after suffering a nervous breakdown and after announcing his retirement in 2002, revealed his struggles with drugs and alcohol.

"Every man needs aesthetic phantoms in order to exist," he was quoted by the New York Times newspaper as saying.

"I have known fear and the terrors of solitude. I have known those fair-weather friends we call tranquillisers and drugs. I have known the prison of depression and the confinement of hospital.

"But one day, I was able to come through all of that, dazzled yet sober."

02/06/2008 09:26:53