Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sat Sep 03, 2005 12:52 am 
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Yves Saint Laurent: His Life and Times (2002).
Yves Saint Laurent 5 avenue Marceau 75116 Paris (2002)

A sad but unmistakable genius

There are two films by David Teboul that premiered together in the US at Film Forum in New York and are now on a single US-issued DVD.

The second (Yves Saint Laurent 5 avenue Marceau 75116 Paris) is coverage of YSL and his staff preparing over a period of several months what turned out to be his last annual collection, dress by dress, in a film which has not inaccurately been called "incredibly tedious." But if you're into French couturier design or are yourself a designer, this is gold. The first (Yves Saint Laurent: His Life and Times) is a biography of YSL with some great interviews with him, at various ages, his longtime companion, Pierre Bergé, his "muse," Loulou de la Falaise, and others. You also see some of the collections being shown.

I was deeply impressed by Saint Laurent's unquestionable genius and precocity, and maybe because of this context I was more appreciative than I've ever been before of the glory of one of his collections. An incredibly concentrated period of creativity precedes the production of the several hundred designs each year. In a couple of weeks he turns out all these pencil drawings on sheets of paper, the pages are organized and lined up, and under his constant hands-on supervision his brilliant team -- still themselves doing everything in the classic way, by hand -- rapidly turns them into splendid dresses. It's quite an amazing process in which elegance and style are bound up with intense hard work.

YSL came to Paris from Oran, Algiers, with his mother when he was sixteen. At nineteen he began working with Dior. At 22 Dior declared him his only possible successor, and in four days, Dior died and Saint Laurent took over the house of Dior. Five years later he was forced out of Dior and started the house of Yves Saint Laurent. Fashion may be ephemeral, and it is different from art. Jean Cocteau thus famously contrasts the two: "Art produces ugly things which frequently become more beautiful with time. Fashion, on the other hand, produces beautiful things which always become ugly with time. " But after seeing this melancholy genius at work in Yves Saint Laurent: His Life and Times, I have no doubt that he is an artist, and one of the great ones of his century. Amazing, and essentially a mystery, like all the great ones. It's sad to see the contrast between the cute, witty young YSL and the old, addiction-ravaged chain smoker at the end, but the words are as carefully chosen at both ends, and the terrifying intensity of focus, the passion for creation, never falters.

I will guarantee you that if you give your attention to these films and particularly the biography, this man will leave a lasting impression upon you: tall, erect, with the distinctive large-framed glasses, he is as unmistakable a trademark as his fashion. You will also get to see Catherine Deneuve, as beautiful as ever, casually picking out some clothes for daytime wear from her pal YSL in the year of these documentaries, just before he said his last adieux to haute couture (January 7, 2002).

Not all the great couturiers are gay, but a lot of them are, and the art of fashion seems somehow inexplicably and inextricably bound up with homosexuality -- this special love of a man who loves men for women and their bodies, which are YSL's declared and unmistakable inspiration. That to me is part of the mystery and fascination of this intense closeup of fashion design at its highest level. And Saint Laurent speaks of his homosexuality and its role in his work. His collaborator, his manager and his director was also his lover, Pierre Bergé.

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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