Yves Saint Laurent: The Legend, The Love Story, and The Questions We’re Left With

by Maddie Maschger

“For the YSL woman, a tuxedo spells defiance… She’s more than a man’s equal, she’s his adversary.”

“Yves Saint Laurent,” the latest film from Jalil Lespert, depicts the life and impact of the infamous namesake designer and that of his romantic and professional partner, Pierre Bergé, who narrates.

The film works from the assumption that the audience knows a great deal about Saint Laurent, which leaves several significant lapses in context. We see him sketching dress designs as a young boy in his family’s home, and only moments later, working as the creative director for Dior at only 21. Without a backstory, the audience is left to wonder how and when the young artist became such an influence within the realm of haute couture.

“Yves Saint Laurent” depicts the good, the bad, and the ugly, but perhaps not enough of the motivation. Some critics have argued that the biopic falls short— as The Wrap phrased it, “What makes this film go astray are the problems that plague so many screen biographies: too much narration, too much telling and not enough showing… presenting an artist’s accomplishments in lieu of exploring his perspective.”

And accomplishments they certainly were. Saint Laurent is revered for his game-changing designs and fresh perspective. From the infamous Mondrian shift dress to the “le smoking” tuxedo jacket (the first pantsuit for women—can I get an amen?), he and Bergé led YSL to become not only a wildly successful fashion house, but that of legend.

What the film lacks in perspective, it certainly makes up for in detail. To declare the costuming as incredible would be an understatement. Throughout “Yves Saint Laurent,” we see the models wearing actual YSL originals (on loan from temperature-controlled storage). The attention to detail was crucial to the success of the film, and it even secured the official stamp of approval from YSL. Current Saint Laurent Paris creative director Hedi Silmane generously invited the filmmakers backstage for a show, and the real Bergé worked on set as an advisor.

Pierre Niney and Guillaume Gallienne star in the film as Saint Laurent and Bergé, respectively, and the two work together exceptionally (Niney’s likeness to Saint Laurent is nearly uncanny). The chemistry is palpable, and above all, the film serves as a beautiful depiction of the couple’s tumultuous (if not at times dysfunctional) love affair and vigorous creative partnership. If nothing else, the film inspires a renewed and deserving interest in Saint Laurent. “Yves Saint Laurent” does an incredible job at uncovering this love story, but we want to see more. His impact, his motivation, and his perspective—all-contributing to his visionary genius—deserve to be explored.

The film comes to NYC theaters Wednesday, June 25th!

Images courtesy of The Weinstein Company.

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