At one point Yves Saint Laurent says, “Fashion is not a major art. It’s not even an art at all.” I first held a similar belief. I thought that if fashion is an art, it’s the most superficial of all. How can someone justify paying thousands of dollars on a garment? I suppose the same could be said for a painting. It’s art and it’s worth as much as people are willing to pay for it. I suppose some people value a person’s artistry and craftsmanship. I don’t mind that actually, it’s the people who buy things to show off or demonstrate their social status that really irk me.
If the life of Yves Saint Laurent proved anything, it’s that fashion was a work of art and he was at the heart of it. At least before the hedonism of modern global fashion brands. This autobiographical fashion film is directed by Jalil Lespert and features a break out performance by Pierre Niney as Yves Saint Laurent. The production design and art direction of the film is sublime. Many of the films shots look like they were ripped out of the pages of Vogue. Some of the credit may be attributed to Bergé opening up the YSL archives and allowing the use of original pieces. Guillaume Gallienne portrays Saint Laurent’s lover and business partner Pierre Bergé.
In brief, the film presents a window into the world of the late French fashion designer. This window, however, must be partly frosted because we don’t get to see much. Most of the man’s life is skimmed over and we don’t get to see much detail or the intricacies of his affairs. His rise into fashion superstardom may have been deliberate. Saint Laurent did become the youngest head designer in the history of the esteemed House of Dior. But, him dodging the draft for the Algerian War, his dismissal from Dior, and his ensuing legal battle take place within the span of ten minutes.
The film seems to take a deeper interest in Saint Laurent’s relationship with Bergé. This might explain why the real life Bergé was so touched by the film. He claims that it brought him to tears. As they say, “Behind every great man is a great woman.” Or in this case, another great man. Bergé is depicted as Saint Laurent’s great love, his rock, and watchful protector. Even this relationship ends up playing second fiddle to the clothes and the collections.
Most of the clothes are presented on the runway. I’ve often found myself staring at YSL clothing through a display window. Now I’m able to admire the clothes on a screen. Although the clothes are nice to look at, it would have been better to show the artistry that goes into the clothing. It would’ve been a more interesting choice to show what truly inspired his collections. Instead, the film shows Yves looking at a picture of Mondrian’s painting. Is that all it took to inspire his famous Mondrian collection? Perhaps today he could just copy and paste a design.
I think that this film took a cookie cutter approach to storytelling. It tried to portray a flawed man by showing him going to parties and using drugs. It seems rather cliché to have an artist using drugs these days. At times the film alludes to a troubled childhood. When he got beat up for being queer, his mother didn’t protect him. Yet he seemed to be close with his mother. What’s the story there? Moreover, the film doesn’t dare to show the pitfalls of Saint Laurent’s work. No one is perfect and I’m sure Saint Laurent had some less than stellar collections.
Would it not be more interesting to see how he dealt with failure? Rather, all we’re shown is one successful collection after another. The audience marvels at the man’s work and applauds. It appears that this official autobiographical film has a tinge of corporate self-endorsement. Maybe the other Saint Laurent biopic offers a more provocative look at the designer’s life. Perhaps that’s why Bergé isn’t too fond of it. Saint Laurent will be released later this year.
Undoubtedly Saint Laurent was a great designer. He did become the first living fashion designer to be honoured by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He was even awarded the rank of Commander of the Legion d’Honneur by Jacques Chirac. Saint Laurent showed that fashion could be an art form. This film, however, took itself much too seriously. It put YSL and the entire world of fashion on a pedestal.