Saint Laurent is docudrama directed by Bertrand Bonello chronicling the life of Yves Saint Laurent from 1967-1976, his most influential period in fashion. It’s a hallucinogenic journey that delves more into Saint Laurent’s extracurricular activities than the iconic fashions he created during this time. I love a good fashion documentary and to be fair to Saint Laurent, I viewed this movie after watching two spectacular documentaries, Iris and Dior and I.
I watch a lot of fashion movies, because I’m interested in the process. I want to know what inspired collections, the pressures of getting those collections made and finally the exuberance and relief of watching that collection come down the runway. Saint Laurent isn’t entirely that movie.
The film spans the time of two of Saint Laurent’s most iconic collections, 1971’s “Hommage aux Années 40s” and 1976’s “Ballet Russes.” “Hommage aux Années 40s” is the beginning of modern fashion as we know it. Saint Laurent upended what had been the norm in fashion since the end of the war (and the beginning of Dior’s “New Look”). Saint Laurent always expressed how he was influenced by the fashion of the streets and in 1970’s Paris, women were drawn to the style popularized during the forties. The controversy of this collection stemmed from its inspiration being drawn from the days of Nazi occupied Paris. Saint Laurent sent fox fur ‘chubbies’, turbans and tailored jackets down the runway. It was a mix of “lady of the night,” aristocracy and androgyny all rolled into one. It changed the face of fashion forever. 1976’s “Ballet Russes” was inspired, as the name suggests, by the Russian Ballet which was very prevalent in Paris at the time. Once again, Saint Laurent was inspired by what he saw on the streets. Another iconic collection was created full of brocade, velvet, suede, silk chiffon, lamé shawls, bolero jackets and lots of gold trim.
Hommage aux Années 40s
I’m left to extrapolate all of this however, because Saint Laurent does little to expound on these influences other than to show passing moments of him sketching these collections, or the short scene where he talks with a friend about how he loved the way the women dressed at his mother’s parties in the forties.
What I do see in Saint Laurent, is a classic story of a troubled artist who was in a sense living a double life. When you see the couture masterpieces he created during this time, it is difficult to think about him as a jet setting, pill popping, champagne swilling philanderer. Saint Laurent spends a little too much time in this space. However, some of the most interesting scenes are the club scenes that show Saint Laurent (beautifully played by Chanel and Longchamp model Gaspard Ulliel), his gorgeous muses and his bad boy lover/Karl Lagerfeld model, Jacques de Bascher, (played by Louis Garrell). While these scenes seem a bit frivolous at times, they do set the stage for Saint Laurent’s inspiration for his collections, in particular “Ballet Russes.”
Ballet Russes Magazine Spread
I came away from this film wishing more attention had been given to Saint Laurent’s relationship with longtime life partner and business partner Pierre Bergé (played by Jérémie Renier). Bergé was doing what he could to hold on to the Yves Saint Laurent name and the company while Saint Laurent himself was on a self-destructive trajectory. All I could think was if it wasn’t for Bergé (who did not back this film), Saint Laurent could’ve ended up a homeless junkie.
Clocking in at 150-minutes, this is not a quick viewing. It’s also a confusing journey. At one point we hear from a 21st century Saint Laurent even though the film completely omits the eighties and nineties.
If you are unfamiliar with Saint Laurent, you will probably do better with this film taking it for what it is superficially. If you have some knowledge of Saint Laurent and his impact on modern fashion, make sure you have your phone or laptop handy. You’ll be doing a lot of Googling.
Saint Laurent opens at Regal Green Hills on Friday, June 19. View the trailer here:
Movie stills courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.