“I understand that the most important encounter in life is the encounter with oneself.” Yves Saint Laurent
understand that the most important encounter in life is the encounter with
oneself.” Yves Saint Laurent
Upon his death in 2008, Yves Saint Laurent was lauded as the greatest
fashion designer of the 20th Century. Though his public face and YSL
brand was undoubtedly world renowned, the personal face of Yves was kept under
wraps. This moving documentary, told through the eyes of adoring partner Pierre Bergé, uncovers a very personal
account of Saint Laurent’s life story, beautifully set to original footage of
the man himself.
The prodigal couturier, Yves Saint Laurent found fame at just 21 years
of age when he took the helm at the House of Dior following Christian Dior’s
death. We see a young, unassuming and quietly handsome Saint Laurent thrust
into the limelight and a life intrinsically dedicated to fashion. To the
outside world he was wealthy, successful and a staple on the party scene, but
the film reveals that Saint Laurent was in fact what Bergé describes as “born
depressed,” experiencing only ephemeral happiness behind closed doors, muddied
in his later years by alcohol and drugs.
For the discerning fashion victim, the first hour of the film is an
unashamed homage to Saint Laurent’s genius. Archive footage of Saint Laurent
presenting his first collections, emerging to standing ovations at fashion
shows and working with models backstage is undeniably stunning to witness for
both fashionistas and non-believers. Clips of Saint Laurent, iconic in his
thick frames and styled hair, frolicking in the then undiscovered Marrakech
with his beautiful French muses, conjure up a vivid sense of nostalgia for the
days of old school Parisian charm and the chaotic glamour of couture.
The language too is rich; the subtitles are easy to follow and
undistracting but to the non-French speaking viewer, it adds an additional
intensity to the already well-scripted and thought-provoking words.
It is this visual beauty of the documentary that allows the viewer to
largely forget that they are watching a ‘documentary’ in the strictest sense of
the word. Intimate sequences of the home shared by Saint Laurent, Bergé and
their breathtaking collection of art, set to minimal piano music, are
effortlessly beautiful and allow the chance to comprehend the material
manifestation of Saint Laurent’s decadent existence.
However, these images sometimes seem to jar with those that follow of
the delicate packing away of the couple’s prized possessions, ahead of the
Christie’s auction around which the film pivots. These are the scenes that
bring us back to documentary territory and seemingly to lamenting Bergé’s loss.
Though the ‘sale of the century’ provides an exciting climax, the viewer is
ultimately left questioning how Bergé felt in its wake, as this is the last
time he speaks. Does the haunting look in Bergé’s eyes as the documentary
closes spell of catharsis or sadness, contentedness or regret? It feels like a
Bergé is a warm narrator and his sense of devastation is palpable
throughout. The magnitude of Bergé and Saint Laurent’s relationship is
transparent and affirmed by affectionate interviews with some of Yves’ closest
friends and models. Although the documentary’s tragic protagonist is, of
course, Saint Laurent, Bergé runs a close second, offering insight into the
life of someone who lives in another’s image. He describes how their
relationship was torn apart by Yves’ discovery of alcohol and drugs, his
recurring spates of depression and inability to cope with the way his youth had
been stolen by success. An affirmation, if ever there was one, that success and
acclaim do not always lead to happiness.
In its fascinating entirety, the film is as elegant as its subject and
protagonist, aided by intelligent choices of soundtrack, opening and closing
credits. It is a frank and moving portrayal of the life of a contemporary
genius and is refreshing in its decision not to make any secret of Saint
Laurent’s interminable emotional turmoil or indulgent lifestyle.
It is unquestionably a must-see for those enamoured with fashion, its
history, or those who will simply revel in a reminder of a golden era of haute
couture, flamboyance, and landmark years in women’s fashion. While equally a
pleasure for less avid fashion fans. Though the archive scenes and runway shots
will play well on the big screen, the rest could risk falling flat anywhere
short of an intimate arthouse screening.
Even if lacking a certain je ne sais quoi, the documentary is successful
in unveiling the mystery surrounding Yves’ private existence and ultimately, in
ensuring his legend lives on.
splendid and pathetic family of the neurotic is the salt of the earth.”