Recently I went to the cinema for the biopic "Yves Saint Laurent" directed by Jalil Lespert. Although approved by Saint Laurent’s life partner Pierre Bergé, the movie actually left me quite disappointed. The film starts in 1957, at the time when the young Yves Saint Laurent was named head of design at Dior after Christian Dior’s death. Back then, fashion used to be something very elitist. Trends didn’t come from the streets, no way to think of something like street style to become a relevant influence for fashion. Designers and couturiers devoted themselves entirely to their own vision of fashion and silhouettes. Society had to follow.
How can such a promising biopic eventually disappoint?
But the main topic of the film is not, as one may think, Saint Laurent’s lasting influence on fashion and also women’s emancipation. It is the love story between him and Pierre Bergé, his life and business partner. Together they founded the brand Yves Saint Laurent in 1961, with Yves being the creative part and Pierre the manager. The film ends in Yves Saint Laurent’s early life in 1976, after a major turning point in the couple’s relationship.
I have to admit, there is not a second of boredom coming up during the movie. Pierre Bergé even provided Jalil Lespert with original designs and decors. The actors Pierre Niney and Guillaume Gallienne are very convincing and the faithful reproduction makes the movie authentic and true-to-life. Now how can such a promising biopic eventually disappoint?
Personally, I got the impression that the story was more about "how to love a genius", focused on Pierre Bergé, than about Yves Saint Laurent’s outstanding achievements and enduring influence. At that point, we should mention: Yves Saint Laurent revolutionized fashion. He had a completely new approach to the procedure and creation of a design. Yves Saint Laurent watched young people and their lives, he observed what was going on in society. Which is why many art movements (such as Pop Art) have influenced his work, contributing to the creation of a whole new kind of fashion (just think of the legendary Mondrian dress).
Yves Saint Laurent and women's emancipation
Saint Laurent lived and represented his time but he also profoundly influenced and shaped it. And that is what is missing in Jalil Lespert’s movie. The whole cultural and social history is ignored and unmentioned. The film does show some of Saint Laurent’s iconic designs, but completely puts aside the echo and the consequences they brought along. For example the first smoking for women ("Le Smoking"), created by the French couturier in 1966, was in fact a reaction to women’s emancipation and contributed to the lasting change in gender relation. The designer made a contribution to women’s equality by giving them self-confidence and might with his forward-looking creations. Yves Saint Laurent was a trailblazer for feminism and models of color. He was the first designer to employ black models for his runways shows. He also supported them throughout his life, helping for example Naomi Campbell to land her first spot on the cover of French VOGUE.
"Preferring the man over the artist"
A movie about Yves Saint Laurent would have the possibility to take its viewers into another world, let them dream for a while. It could show the magic and sensuality of the world of Haute Couture. The birth of an idea, the all consuming devotion and love for materials, details, tailoring. Everything Haute Couture stands for. Instead the movie talks down a genius and his outstanding achievements, the person Yves Saint Laurent himself is fully banalized. Jalil Lespert fails to do justice to the designer’s exceptional commitment and affection for his work.
That the couturier actually revolutionized fashion had to be mentioned in the credits, otherwise it would have remained unnoticed. Janie Sarnet, fashion reporter for Le Figaro, perfectly sums up the quintessence: "By preferring the man over the artist and visionary, the film fails to pay him a suitable tribute". Enough said.
Nadja Herscovici, AMD Munich.
Images: Movie scenes "Yves Saint Laurent"