YVES SAINT LAURENT: L'AMOUR FOU

Posted by Bethan Holt, Fashion Junior at Large

It seems like barely a week goes by in the world of fashion without some new comments about the huge pressures faced by designers; after McQueen and Galliano there is definitely a sense of unease about the way the creative minds at the helm of big fashion houses can cope with the deadlines they are always up against.
YSL with Pierre Bergé (image from changefashion.net)


A clip from L'Amour Fou- click to see full screen
 Thus when I watched 'L'Amour Fou', the new documentary about the life of Yves Saint Laurent, this weekend, these debates came to mind once again as Laurent's partner, Pierre Bergé, described the designer's fragile mental health and tumultuous relationship with drugs and alcohol during the 70s, 80s and 90s. Directed by Pierre Thoretton, this wasn't so much a tale of pressure, depression and addiction, but a love story. Everyone needs a Pierre Bergé in their life.


Yves Saint Laurent with his models
©Pierre Boulat Courtesy Association Pierre & Alexandra Boulat
This is a documentary about Yves Saint Laurent but you hardly hear his voice at all. The commentary of his career is provided instead by Bergé (whom YSL first met at the funeral of Christian Dior) and Laurent's muses Betty Catroux and Loulou De La Falaise. That in itself is illuminating; Bergé is the supportive lover, scorned during the worst of his partner's troubles while Catroux paints herself as a partner in misery for the designer with whom she would often discuss the hellishness of life. 
Yves with Betty Catroux (from houseofmcnairy.com)
 The documentary was made after Yves Saint Laurent's death and even begins with scenes from his funeral. From the outset, therefore, he is a ghostly presence rather than a protagonist. So this is a huge contrast to something like 'The Last Emperor' in which Valentino is categorically the star. But I wouldn't say that's a downfall to the film at all because those who knew him best paint an enchanting image one of the most gifted designers ever. It also makes the moments when archive footage of YSL is shown all the more poignant; one of my favourites is an interview in which he states his favourite quality in a man is 'body hair' and that earthly happiness is 'a full bed'.The combination of anecdotes and archival footage depict Saint Laurent as funny, eccentric and charming during his best times. 
Yves Saint Laurent in 1969 (image from hautefashionafrica.com)
 However, I came away from 'L'Amour Fou' feeling like Pierre Bergé was the best thing about it. It's not often that the supporting act gets a look-in but Yves Saint Laurent could never have been the fashion game changer he was, at least not so successfully, without Bergé. In his own right, Bergé has achieved an awful lot, particularly in the fight against AIDS. He has been appointed a UN Goodwill Ambassador and has been a longtime supporter of the political left in France.
Bergé at the funeral of Yves Saint Laurent in June 2008
 The film is structured around the sale of the couple's vast collection of art, lovingly amassed as soon as they became wealthy enough to do so. One of YSL's most famous designs is the Mondrian inspired dress but when that was created, Bergé remembers that actually owning a Mondrian was a distant dream for the couple. In parts the film becomes a little slow as it somewhat dryly shows shots of all the art which is to be sold off, only adding to the eeriness of YSL's absence. But then the ending is a quite astounding montage of the auction, Bergé looks on as much of the material gain of his life with Yves is sold off to buyers willing to pay millions. The proceeds from the sale are divided between The Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent Foundation, Bergé himself and a number of the charities which the couple supported. And what clinches this as a love story? Bergé's analogy that many would see the auction as him purging the evidence of his half century with Saint  Laurent but for him those millions are nothing compared to the sharing of a life, and the ending which came with Saint Laurent's death. For lovers of fashion and great love stories, this is a must-see.

L'Amour Fou is released today in the UK. Buy it here. Clip courtesy of Studio Canal.