“Yves St. Laurent Slips Away” may have been the headline in Paris’s “Le Monde” in 1977, but in this 2014 biopic, it is St. Laurent’s character that slides. The self-destructive couturier and self-indulgent 33 year old is superbly played by actor Pierre Niney. Niney looks like YSL and has his mannerisms,as well as,actually dressing in his clothes and luxuriating in Yves St. Laurent’s apartments. We learn of St.Laurent’s work rituals like his wearing of white lab coats and his penchant for classical music. We also learn of his substance abuse and his passion for risky sex and chocolate mousse. The film makes it clear that he was the artistic genius who had no interest in the scheduling or in the business transactions. As his assistant prattles on about the day’s line-up of appointments,he rebuffs her with,”Let me listen to my music,please.” As he draws and sketches,selects fabrics and models,and attends fittings,his partner Pierre Berge (Guillaume Gallienne) runs the fashion house’s financial side. Laurent complains of Pierre to his girl pals Lou Lou and Betty,”You can vanish here–only power and money interest him,the monster!”
Berge was more than cooperative in getting the film “St. Laurent” made. He comes off as the stabilizing factor in Yves’ life. He puts up with temper tantrums,infidelity, boozy clubbing,and St. Laurent’s easy boredom. We,in turn, see Laurent locked in his quarters and managed like a child. Laurent’s own mother tells her son that he has”left the world” and can not change a light bulb. Pierre can and will was his response. It is Pierre that picks up Yves passed out and dumped body at a construction site. It is Pierre who tries to avert a scandal by halting an interview from being published. And it is Pierre Berge who amassed 350 million dollars after St. Laurent’s death. More than Michael Jackson’s or Elvis Presley’s estates earned by comparison.
One scene has a drug addled YSL pick up a Roman bust and attempt to smash Berge’s head in as he slept. Most of this drama stems from the real villain of the film,the debauched socialite,Jacques de Bascher. Introduced to St.Laurent by fashion rival Karl Langerfeld,Jacques (Xavier Lafitte)has no limits on kinky sex or on heavy acid dropping. His most yucky line is ,”why not step into the bushes?” With Jacques,fear and ugliness enter like the cobras YSL hallucinates. Still in this eighteen year relationship with Laurent,Berge begs “Don’t let him destroy us.” St. Laurent responded with,”I love bodies without souls.” Berge later gives St.Laurent a painting of Proust’s bedroom,staid and 19thc safe.
The film’s director Jalil Lespert uses flashbacks inordinately. Beginning in 1974 where YSL books a Parisian room under the name Mr.Swann (a toast to Proust, maybe) to the Algerian home where he dresses dolls for his sisters,the scenes and atmospheres jump back and forth.This is effective for the “untold story”, but not so much for the actual factual one. One really needs to already know that St. Laurent was the first living artist to have a solo exhibit at the Met. or that he ushered in “men’s clothing for women” in the form of tuxedos and trousers, and that he pushed the borders of couture with the sheer blouse. That he was a protégée of Christian Dior or the that he retired in Marrakesh was not broached. What was shown was his love of music,Maria Callas in particular. His goals of art acquisitions like Matisse, Mondrian and Rothko;his wish to please his mother,his early hobby of collecting y- shaped sticks for good luck,his cameo collection in later life and his Buddha altar were all interesting.
I enjoyed seeing the actual seamstress work and appreciated the pressure they were often under. “Tell Mr. Laurent that I am not Houdini’s wife” was a telling line. How to keep satin-backed organza simple was refreshing, as was watching gigantic scissors slicing through patterns. The collections and the runway shows entranced. The scenes with girl pals Lou Lou and model Betty were fun. My favorite line being St. Laurent’s, “Let’s go in disguise and terrorize everyone” would have a different take today.
I did not enjoy the 1971 disco clubbing or the four year old French bulldog Moujik’s demise from spilled pills. The fancy granite headstone and box of white lilies hardly made up for the pet’s panting,drooling and suffering. I disliked the pseudo-frontal nudity and the genital jewelry. Somehow,”you dress the world” does not include these. The film left me feeling sad for YSL’s shallowness. His “fashion passes like a train” will be want I hope to remember.