Yves Saint Laurent: Genius Rebel Icon Legend

A love story is at the heart of 2014's first film tributes to the designer.

“I wanted to tell a powerful, epic love story,” says director Jalil Lespert on the making of ‘Yves Saint Laurent’. “I also wanted to portray characters striving to make their dreams come true.”

The much publicised first of two such biopics to be released this year – Lespert’s with the backing of Saint Laurent’s former lover and business partner, Pierre Bergé, the latter (directed by Bertrand Bonello) with support from the head of Kering, owner of Saint Laurent, Francois-Henri Pinault – hits cinemas today.

          

Away from the controversial rebranding of the house by Hedi Slimane, prior to the clean aesthetic produced by Stefano Pilato for SS08 and the ruffled sensuality of Tom Ford’s AW03 collection; ahead of Touche Éclat’s prominence in the beauty world and Sophie Dahl’s car crashing ‘Opium’ campaign, Lespert’s film is as much a private affair as it is a visualisation of the initial delivery by one of the industry’s giants.

The infamous Mondrian dress makes an appearance – in a scene that stretches from the sketching of a colour palette to models posing in said frocks – as do several other definitive collections; the film culminates at the 1976 Ballet Russes show.

But the clothes play simply a supporting role, much like the subtle appearance of Andy Warhol in a group scene; while they remain a focus of the characters and are both a necessary and inviting part of the film, they are essentially pillars of the story.

            

It’s hard to contextualise the great fashion house today with the film’s representation of it then, so much has happened post-1976, but Nikolai Kinski’s Karl Lagerfeld acts as a starting point. The legend of his Coca Cola-with-a-straw drinking habits noted in the first half hour, are a soft indication of a fashion personality we still recognise today.

But the film, and Pierre Niney’s glorious turn as Yves (the nervous repositioning of the glasses alone cementing the likeness), is but a history lesson of the man “very much responsible for the contemporary look of women today,” as Tom Ford said of his previous employer’s namesake, following the icon’s death in 2008.

What you take away from it is how this happened; why Saint Laurent’s 2002 haute couture show, the designer’s last, had a capacity of 2,000 and still there were ticket touts and outdoor screens.

“It would seem odd today to have a fashion show without music,” Jalil notes. “But Saint Laurent was the first to use any for a show.” It’s a small but telling sign of just what Yves Saint Laurent brought to the industry, and will either ring true with what you already know or have you Googling to learn more.

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