Film and fashion: Saint Laurent


Loulou, Yves, and Betty – Saint Laurent

I assume calling this film Saint Laurent was an intentional pun for the fashion designer who could do no wrong. The irony of course is that  YSL was a man of great talent but also filled with petty insecurities and a self-destructive nature.

There were two films about YSL done in 2014. The first, entitled Yves Saint Laurent, was an official biopic financed by his longtime partner in love and business Pierre Berger. That film began with YSL’s young life and his rise to fame at Dior. It captures the YSL Berger fell in love with and helped through a difficult departure from Dior and creation of their own company. However, this film bogs down in the mid 60s at the exact moment where this more recently released film Saint Laurent picks up.


Scene where Loulou she claims she is wearing an Ossie Clark jacket, her mother’s skirt, and a turban found in the flea market

This version also got the approval of Pierre Berger, as well as help with costuming from the YSL archives. The alternative was to be sued by Berger for copyright infringement for reproducing YSL garments – a bit of an over-reaction if you ask me. Aside from the real YSL fashions, the rest of the costuming is also exceptional, especially the men’s wear as worn by the actors portraying YSL, Jacques de Bascher (YSL’s lover in the mid 1970s), and Pierre Berger. The costuming was created by Anais Romand, who has done many French period films over the last twenty years, and obviously has an eye for capturing an era.

The art direction is spectacular: the cinematography, costuming, and soundtrack. However, I personally found the film disjointed and badly edited. I also realized that although I know YSL’s biography quite well, anybody watching this film expecting to be introduced to who all the various characters are and why they are there will be probably lost. Jacques and Yves talk about Karl, but never mention his last name is Lagerfeld. Yves is referred to as a Callas, but not what that means (a Diva). Betty and Loulou and Victoire and Anne-Marie are all there, but not fully explained as to why or how they were important to Yves.

There are also a couple of gratuitous nude scenes that look like they were added simply to expose the considerable asset of the lead actor — it was an unnecessary attempt for scandalous attention that also means I can’t show this film in the museum without a very explicit warning to the audience.

Scene from the film of the Russian collection 1976, using real YSL fashions

Scene from the film of the Russian collection 1976, using real YSL fashions

Despite this, there are some excellent scenes that really capture the creativity of  YSL. The opening sequence in the workrooms in 1967 is elegantly simple. My favourite fashion scene has a client buying a pant suit but worries it is too masculine. Yves  transforms her into a confident feminine woman with a few simple additions and alterations to her accessories. The party scenes at the discotheques in the 1960s and 1970s are also exciting to watch as they really capture the era. There is also a very clever use of a split screen that mirrors YSL haute couture with newsreel films from the same years.

1976 Image of the Russian collection

1976 Image of the Russian collection

The film ends with the Russian collection in 1976 – a collection that gets more attention than I think it historically deserves, however, that collection seems to be a touchstone in both YSL films and this time it is even shot in the same venue where the original show took place.

About Jonathan

Jonathan Walford is a fashion historian and co-founder of the Fashion History Museum in Cambridge, Ontario. The FHM maintains a collection of nearly 12,000 artifacts dating from the mid 17th century to the present. Jonathan has authored various books and museum catalogues, including The Seductive Shoe, Shoes A-Z, Forties Fashion, 1950s American Fashion, and Sixties Fashion.
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3 Responses to Film and fashion: Saint Laurent

  1. Daniel says:

    If that’s an Ossie Clark then I’m Marilyn Monroe.

    • Daniel says:

      Of course if they actually used a real Ossie then someone might say “hang on that looks JUST like a YSL….”

      • Jonathan says:

        The irony of Pierre Berge threatening to sue if any copies were made of YSL, meanwhile, as you surmise, I doubt the actress playing Loulou was wearing a real Ossie Clark…

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