Best fashion designers of the 20th century? For me, it’s the Big Four. Chanel (Lagerfeld counts as both, right?), Lee McQueen, Dame Viv and Yves Matthieu-St-Laurent, to give him his full title. They all brought something unique and different to the table, managing to blend fashion and art to the point where there was no longer a distinction. Their stories are all worthy of screenplays, and we’ve all seen different versions of Chanel’s rags-to-riches tale. Monsieur Saint-Laurent’s story is just as fantastical. How a single person manages to change the face of fashion and build a giant luxury couture house will always ignite the imagination, you don’t even need to be style obsessed to be intrigued by these amazing lives.
The latest biopic on YSL tells his story from the viewpoint of his business partner, lover and best friend Pierre Berge, through flashbacks to pivotal moments in their intertwined history. From the moment the matter-of-fact, steady Pierre meets Yves, you realise that they share a special bond. This bond is severly tested by many challenges – notably setting up the eponymous YSL brand together (Pierre as the business brain, Yves as the artistic genius) after YSL leaves Dior, Yves’ mental health problems and the temptations of living in Paris in the drug fuelled, sexual awakening that was the Sixties and Seventies.
Pierre Niney as Yves, Guillaume Galienne as Pierre
Yves character is brilliantly portrayed by Pierre Niney, showing many dimensions to his character – from the introverted yet highly talented young boy in the family home in Algeria, to the hedonist workaholic he became. His problems started when he was called up to serve in the Army as his design career was taking off in Paris; he ended up in a psychiatric hospital after having a breakdown. Luckily Pierre is there to pick up the pieces. Diagnosed with manic-depression (as are many creatives), the stress of creating numerous collections per year takes its toll, coupled with his party lifestyle. But who can blame him? He had it all, and who wouldn’t live to excess? It’s a highly complex character, and relative newcomer Niney nails both sides – the explosive creator in his workshop and the cruising party animal, as well as the amazing physical resemblance.
However, the steady ship that is Guillaume Galienne as Pierre nearly steals the show, playing the perfect balance to the Yves’ excesses, wheeling and dealing and building their empire behind the scenes. Their relationship was as complex as Yves’ character – there’s no doubt that he was the “man of his life,” but that didn’t stop the infidelity, threesomes and explosive rows. If you want the rainbow you need to put up with the rain. Pierre was no saint however, and both seemed to accept that an open relationship was part of the deal. They were victims of the times, the circles they moved in and the money. It’s hard to judge. Despite all the drama, there’s no doubt of the devastation felt by Berge after Yves was gone (he died as recently as 2008). The female characters (Yves’ mother, and his muse Victoire, played by Charlotte Le Bon) are firmly in the background, used as mannequins for the clothes and not much else. This is not a feminist film by any means, but their one-sided characters are an inevitable sign of the times.
As you would expect from a film focussed on someone obsessed with beauty, the scenes are sumptuous and a treat for the eyes, from the atelier scenes where ideas are tested and cloth is draped, to the holidays in Marrakech at the colourful Jardin Marjorelle – with it’s vivid blues and yellows and stunning North African style, a welcome contrast to the haute couture world of Paris. We are invited into his luxury private domain, his apartment filled with intriguing artefacts from around the world and nightclubs frequented by the rich and famous (Karl Lagerfeld and Andy Warhol are noteable in the inner circle as well as muse Loulou de la Falaise). Obviously the fashion is impeccable, outfits were borrowed from museums to ensure authenticity in the catwalk scenes – we see YSL’s major collections including the game-changing Mondrian dresses and the magnificient tribal feathered season, when his hectic drug and alcohol fuelled lifestyle was starting to catch up with him.
The Jardin Marjorelle – Yves’ Marrakech slice of paradise (it’s amazing – go and see it).
When the models were pushed out onto the catwalk for each collection I got goosebumps, such is the effect of YSL’s vision and ability to make women look impossibly elegant, unreal even. Watching his style develop and grow in confidence is thrilling, from the stringent classic style of his time at Dior to the tribalism of his later collections. I left the cinema satiated, I had received my creative fix after a day dealing with logic and reason, and was inspired to write and paint. His story is now a legend, and the legend lives on in the safe hands of Hedi Slimane. Although his first name has been dropped, the brand will live on forever, and move with the times just as he did. Long live (Yves) Saint Laurent.