Making its debut in Vancouer, Yves Saint Laurent is a powerful, stylish and well-tailored biopic based on the life of Yves Saint Laurent, beginning from 1958. Filmed in France, the country that embodies both great fashion and grand love affairs, director Jalil Lespert doesn’t hesitate in documenting the lavish lifestyle of one of fashion’s greatest icons. He simply doesn’t hesitate in giving Yves Saint Laurent’s great life and grand love affair with Pierre Bergé, his longtime partner in both business and romance, the operatic treatment that it deserves.
With the film set in in 1958, the beginning starts off with the news of Christian Dior’s death still fresh in everyone’s minds and the uncertain fate of the House of Dior, which is left in chaos after the death of the head designer. It isn’t long before Yves brings the label back on its feet. After debuting his first collection for Dior, it becomes clear that Yves would prove to be the most appropriate choice to replace the legendary designer. Yves’ clothes are as meticulously made and perfectly proportioned as Dior’s in the same exquisite fabrics, but the only differences are that the young designer makes them softer, lighter and easier to wear. With Yves receiving news of his promotion to artistic director, also known as the head designer, in the House of Dior at the age of twenty-one, he is hailed as a national hero.
As a young fashion prodigy emboldened by his large success, Yves’ designs become more daring. But it isn’t long before he is called up to join the French army during the Algerian War of Independence. After the completion of six Dior collections, Yves is forced to leave the House of Dior, with the Dior management raising no objection due to his recent harshly criticized fashion line. He serves only twenty days before being checked into a military hospital, where he receives news that he has been fired by Dior. Adding fuel to the already-burning fire, we see that Yves becomes manic depressive during his stay at the French military hospital.
After his release from the hospital, Yves and his partner Pierre Bergé start their own Fashion House, Yves Saint Laurent (YSL). It isn’t long before the brand becomes an international success. Yves comes to popularize fashion trends such as the most famous classic tuxedo suit for women, called Le Smoking. He also becomes the first designer to come up with a prêt-à-porter (ready-to-wear) line. In fact, the prêt-à-porter line was extremely popular with the public and eventually became more profitable than their haute couture line. However, Yves’ precarious health declines, and we start to see his actions become more erratic under the tremendous pressure for designing two haute couture and two prêt-à-porter collections every year. This lead him to turn more and more to alcohol and drugs. In some scenes, which show the audience’s applause during the end of the fashion shows, we see that Yves is barely able to walk down the runway and consequently has to be supported up by his models.
Outside of his stressful career, Yves’ personal life isn’t much more stable. It all starts going downhill when the love of his life, Pierre, cheats on him with the most influential model that walked for his brand; her name was Victoire. As their romantic relationship slowly becomes just as mentally-straining as his career, Yves becomes a heavy drinker and a frequent user of cocaine. This lifestyle becomes a regular routine for Yves, and though he becomes linked romantically to other men, his alluring, yet toxic, romance with Pierre develops again through jealousy and eventually pulls the both of them back to each other. The film ends with Yves stumbling onto the runway, mouth slumped and askew, eyes lost behind his glasses, his movement unsteady and uncertain.
Jalil Lespert’s film stars Pierre Niney, who gives an astonishing performance that masterfully mimics the iconic designer’s impish bearing and aura of genius. Fashion historians and fans will love and appreciate the glimpses of fashion history in the making. With these triumphs of creative excellence, these battles with manic depression and substance abuse, we can truly see Yves Saint Laurent being reborn before our eyes. But even after revealing the lavish, yet troubled, life of Yves Saint Laurent, the film ultimately ends with Yves remaining an enigma.