By Crispian Balmer

June 2, Reuters

PARIS (Reuters) - French fashion king Yves Saint Laurent has died at the age of 71, hailed as a 20th century cultural icon who revolutionized the way women dressed.

The reclusive Saint Laurent's couture creations won global fine art status and he was widely considered to be one of an elite club of designers including Christian Dior and Coco Chanel who made Paris the fashion capital of the world.

From Princess Grace of Monaco to the actress Catherine Deneuve, Saint Laurent's creations adorned many famous women but he was also the first designer to make luxury labels accessible to a wider audience through innovative read-to-wear collections.

He exploded on to the world stage at just 21 and built up a clothes, perfumes and accessories empire that resulted in a 1989 stock market flotation -- the first by a fashion house.

But Saint Laurent, whose death on Sunday was announced without any details of the cause, was plagued by health problems -- he suffered from severe depression and underwent treatment for alcohol abuse.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy praised Saint Laurent as a creative genius. "He was convinced that beauty was a luxury that every man and woman needed," Sarkozy said in a statement.

"(Coco) Chanel gave women freedom. Yves Saint Laurent gave them power," Saint Laurent's long-time friend and business partner Pierre Berge told France Info radio.

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photo: Yves Saint Laurent seen with lipstick marks on his right cheek, acknowledges applause at the end of his Spring-Summer 2001 high fashion collection presentation in Paris January 24, 2001. (REUTERS/Jack Dabaghian)