Yves Saint Laurent provided some of the key moments in fashion history. He revolutionised the industry with his innovative designs, drawing inspiration from a diverse array of sources. These ideas gave his work a freshness that was characteristic of the time that he inhabited. The film Yves Saint Laurent is directed by Jalil Lespert starring Pierre Niney in the titular role and Guillaume Gallienne as Pierre Bergé, his partner.
The biopic charts Yves Saint Laurent’s career, starting from his time as Christian Dior’s assistant to his ‘Ballet Russes’ collection in 1976. His story is told through his relationship with Pierre Bergé, their love for each other and their business partnership. A relationship that was tempestuous, passionate and spanned a lifetime. Bergé assisted on the film by giving access to locations, the archive and sharing moments from their life. The film focuses on the private life of Yves Saint Laurent and the ensuing drama that came with his success. His battles with alcohol and depression, as well as his sexual escapades and drug fuelled parties, were heavily featured. Pierre Niney took to the role very well, not only in his appearance but by touchingly showcasing Yves’ fragility, vulnerability, shyness and dedication.
Yves Saint Laurent was appointed as the artistic director of the House of Dior at the young age of 21. He modernised Dior’s signature look with an added youthfulness. The film showed his designs through the intimate catwalk shows with Nikolai Kinski as Karl Lagerfeld and prominent fashion editors in the audience. His final collection for Dior was the daring ‘Beat Look’ in 1960 and was a radicalisation that the brand was not ready for. After being conscripted into the army and suffering a nervous breakdown, he then started his own fashion house with Pierre Bergé in 1962. The film shows the influence that his depression had on this decision. There was a need for him to create freely and to give his life the purpose he desired.
The film delivers visually on fashion but lacks substance by not tapping into the design inspirations and process that Yves Saint Laurent had. He is frequently seen sketching and working with models in studio fittings which accumulated in the shows. However, acknowledging what his method and ideas were that made these designs so revolutionary wasn’t emphasised. The 1965 ‘Mondrian’ and 1966 ‘Le Smoking’ collections were both featured but the potential to expand on how the collections came to fruition wasn’t there. Significant points in his fashion career such as these were given a few minutes of screen time as opposed to the lengthier and more dramatic club scenes. It showed his success but not the creative process that was behind it. Madeline Fontaine, the costume designer was able to use the stunning original costumes from the Yves Saint Laurent Foundation and also recreated some of the costumes. The wedding dress worn by Victoire Doutreleau on the cover of Paris Match in 1958 was one of these recreations.
The film had a dark decadence with a mesmerising jazz score that was a perfect accompaniment to the chic parties set in Parisian apartments. There was an insight into who Yves Saint Laurent was as a man, a lover, and a friend. I had more of an appreciation for the battles that he was going through whilst he was designing but I didn’t feel that I left with knowing anything more about who he was as a designer. Yes, we saw his remarkable designs and sheer devotion to his work but this seemed to be secondary to his intense lifestyle and relationship. It didn’t need to be a Devil Wears Prada kind of film but showing more of his creative genius would have given a complete picture and added some depth. Yves Saint Laurent’s influence on fashion is well-known and well appreciated, but this biopic didn’t cohesively show why this was the case.
Reviewed by Giselle La Pompe-Moore. Images sourced as captioned.