Yves Saint Laurent, Film Review


Yves Saint Laurent is a biopic based on the iconic designer and his progression from a painfully shy 21-year-old aspiring designer to a man who single handedly revolutionised the fashion world and at the same time achieved complete creative emancipation.

The film is a hurricane of emotion, glamour, colour, opulence and lasciviousness that seeks to portray both Yves’ professional accomplishments and his turbulent personal life. Never a dull moment, the plot moves quickly but glazes over most gritty elements of reality, leaving more room to focus on love and fashion.

Director Jalil Lespert maintains authenticity by carefully fusing fiction and reality, incorporating many of Laurent’s original pieces and some of the most significant locations of his life events.

A young, inexperienced designer, Yves was thrust into the cut throat world of Haute Couture almost overnight with a promotion to head designer at Dior following the death of Christian Dior in 1957. Yves aptitude for design, form, drawing and his inherent creativity are portrayed seamlessly throughout the film and he rapidly moves from season to season to heading his own design house with fluidity. It’s when Yves meets Pierre Berge, uncovers his sexuality and suffers a manic depressive breakdown that the many contrasting facets of his personality begin to show, and the interesting dimensions of the film begin to unravel.

As Yves career begins to flourish he is forced to confront the mental gap between the bliss and solace of his work and the mental anguish that every simple aspect of reality brings him.

Lespert uses a multitude of cinematic applications to focus less on the story of YSL’s fashion legacy and more on the grandiose disparities of Yves’ psyche; juxtaposing his crippling shyness, depression and internal masochism with his arrogance, generosity, self righteousness and overwhelming creative genius. Perhaps capturing the poignancy of Yves’ genius, Lespert subtly references his brave disregard for reality and therefore his concentrated, obsessive focus on dresses, fashion and design by inserting and then promptly neglecting any real world references. At one stage Laurent completely disregards an article about space travel announcing that he ‘doesn’t much care for it’ with absolutely no apology.

Yves’ evolution as a designer and his path to finding personal fulfilment see him adopt a repetitive behavioural cycle in which fashion and his erratic moods are inextricably linked. As the film unfolds you realise that not much else matters to Yves, which is concisely why he was so brilliant. Despite the paramount global events that took place during his life; wars, space travel, political movements, he cared only for changing the world of fashion, giving women beauty and freedom of expression through appearance. His finite focus was simultaneously his biggest flaw and his greatest talent as the stress that paralysed him during the conceptualising of pieces led him to begin a turbulent relationship with drugs, alcohol and sex. Feeling as though he had ‘missed out on life’, Yves chased his youth by purging himself on a cocktail of escapism through drugs, alcohol, men, promiscuity, partying and excess with no remorse and little consideration of the consequences. In many ways Laurent was negligent and spoilt. He allowed his creative genius to become his foible and used it as a crutch to behave with reckless abandon. With this, Lespert highlights the romantic undercurrent of the film as the dynamic between Berge and Laurent moves from tumultuous to odious to frivolous and back to unconditional. Despite Laurent’s selfish immaturity Berge remains his constant support.

As Yves and his genius are the centrepiece of the film we are predisposed to side with him, allowing him a lenience for his often repugnant behavior. Berge is framed as the business mind of the operation; a pragmatic, reliable, and business savvy figure head who is responsible for launching the fashion house, raising capital, maintaining its success and dragging Laurent through his debilitating mental illness. At various times we are privy to him manipulating the characters in Yves’ life for what seems, upon first glance to placate his jealously. As Yves’ behaviour repeatedly cycles from abusive to apathetic though, you realise that Berge eliminates players strategically to remove excess distraction or stress in order to maintain Yves’ mental stability and creative ability.

Jalil Lesert’s film is undeniably beautiful, lush, opulent and intoxicating but it’s a double-edge sword when you witness the unfolding intricacies of Yves and his relationships. Really it all comes down to another complex equation to do with humanity and the general fucked-up ness that we are all prone to, genius or not. I was left with the unshakable feeling that you could put the whole thing down to a case of… “that which nourishes you, will also destroy you”.

Starring Pierre Niney and Guillame Galliene, Yves Saint Laurent is out in cinemas on the 26th of June.

jess matthews


Yves Saint Laurent, Film review by Jess Matthews