Friday, August 26, 2011
Yves Saint Laurent: His Life and Times
I have been rounding out my knowledge of fashion history from the decade after WWII up through the late 1990s with the documentary Yves Saint Laurent: His Life and Times. Filmmaker David Teboul got Saint Laurent to give lengthy interviews in 2001 that trace his roots as a young boy growing up in Algeria to the teenager who won prizes in design competitions, from the young man who took over the storied house of Dior (at 21!), to the couturier who started his own house in 1962. Interspersed are interviews with Saint Laurent’s mother, Lucienne Mathieu-Saint-Laurent, his companion and business partner Pierre Bergé, and friends and muses Betty Catroux and Loulou de la Falaise, which give a more complete view of Yves and his world.
Some of my favorite moments were the fashion shows—I love seeing mid-century fashion shows, always held in cramped gilded salons where there is no music, no elbow room, and the ladies smoke, take notes, and even make comments about the clothes in the full hearing of everyone around them. Hilarious!
Fall-Winter 1990 Haute Couture Collection. Green tweed; pink crepe blouse.
Also interesting are the interviews Saint Laurent gave at various points in his career. It’s clear he felt a deep affinity for Coco Chanel, calling her in one 1968 interview his favorite person in history and saying she and Balenciaga in his (young) opinion were the two greats, making a mark on their day and their art. At the time he didn’t consider himself, or any of his contemporaries, at that level.
By 2001 he still considered Chanel “the only house that still has its own style, along with mine.” He’s right—all the tie-neck blouses we will see this fall, the color combinations, and the influence of the 1970s seem a direct reference to the Yves Saint Laurent style.
Fall-Winter 1973 Haute Couture Collection. Cardigan embroidered with gold, gray, and silver; sand-colored chiffon blouse, gray flannel pants. Made to order by Lauren Bacall. I'm convinced all the tie-neck blouses we are going to see this fall are because of the YSL retrospective held last year in Paris.
I found it interesting too that Yves talks about his love of black models, claiming he had the first one in Paris when he started in 1962 and that he considered them extraordinary, “their bodies, the way they hold their head, the legs.” He found them “provocative and exhilarating” and said they “give meaning to the whole creation.”
Edmonde Charles-Roux, editor of Vogue Paris from 1954 to 1966, says in the film that if “Chanel liberated women, Yves Saint Laurent liberated fashion, removing its sacred aura” and making it “younger, freer, more real.”
Spring-Summer 1981 Haute Couture Collection. Gold-and-silver lamé gauze.
Yves Saint Laurent: His Life and Times is essential viewing for anyone wanting to understand the changes in fashion since the 1950s and Yves’ part in bringing them about.
If you want to watch Yves and his atelier at work creating his final collection before his retirement, the same disc contains 5 Avenue Marceau 75116 Paris, which I reviewed here.
All photos of the clothes are by Alexandre Guirkinger, from the excellent book Yves Saint Laurent by Florence Müller and Farid Chenoune.