The cultural zeitgeist may be increasingly determined by what is streaming on Netflix “Watch Instantly.” On the upside, Netflix has allowed me access to many excellent fashion-related documentaries. For instance right now you can watch Bill Cunningham New York, The September Issue, Valentino: The Last Emperor, and Unzipped (a must-see for anyone nostalgic for the ’90s runway reign of Cindy Crawford and Linda Evangelista). But amongst the campy, the cutthroat, and the frivolous, one film stands out.
L’Amour Fou (dir.Perre Thoretton, 2009) documents the life and death of Yves Saint Laurent, the designer who innovated immaculately tailored women’s tuxedos, and modernized French couture.
Writers were a wellspring of inspiration for Saint Laurent, and one of his touchstones was Marcel Proust. You have to respect someone who identifies so strongly with the attitude of the Belle Epoque and also repurposes the graphic art of Mondrian.
Saint Laurent reminds us that fashion is citational, that a collection represents a variorum of influences, and requires inspiration, intelligence, and insouciance at its inception.
After getting his start apprenticing for Christian Dior, Saint-Laurent became one of the most consistently celebrated and influential designers of all time (without YSL there would be no Tom Ford for example).
What is most moving about the film is the romance documented at its core: the story of Yves Saint-Laurent’s 50-year long partnership with Pierre Bergé. The two men met in 1958 and together they built a fashion empire.
I feel like I’m constantly searching for models of successful and sustained relationships founded on mutual respect, especially ones that tend toward the unconventional. Saint- Laurent and Bergé are one of those rare matches who compliment each other completely. Bergé’s phlegmatic temperament provides the perfect foil to the fashion designer’s tortured mood swings. (Bergé once claimed Yves was “born with a nervous breakdown.”) They would sojourn in Morocco when they became disenchanted with the fashion scene, or burnt out from Studio 54, and together they curated a personal art collection worth millions.
The film documents a love affair with beauty, the refined aesthetic sense of an exceptional individual, the torment of a troubled spirit, an admirable creative legacy, and a queer romance-turned companionship that spanned decades. All of these elements are intensely moving, as is the overall sense of poetry about the film typified by the couturier’s retirement speech. After all his success Saint Laurent claims, “I rubbed shoulders with those whom Rimbaud called firemakers… I understood that the most important encounter in life, is the encounter with oneself.”
Further Reading: The Beautiful Fall: Fashion, Genius, and Glorious Excess in 1970s Paris by Alicia Drake