Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Yves Saint Laurent: Life, Love and Art

Yves Saint Laurent is a familiar name even for those who are oblivious to fashion. He put women in the elegant le smoking tuxedo suit, bringing them self-assurance, audacity and power while preserving their femininity.

Helmut Newton's iconic 1975 photo of YSL le smoking

"Fashion's role is not simply to make women more beautiful but also to reassure them, give them confidence and allow them to assert themselves." Yves Saint Laurent

The incredibly shy young man, who was only 18 when he started his career as Christian Dior's assistant and became his victorious successor at 21, will always be remembered for his amazing talent and incredible fashion legacy.

Yves Saint Laurent, 1958

But we cannot speak of Yves Saint Laurent without mentioning Pierre Bergé, the love of his life and business partner. L'Amour Fou, the latest fashion DVD released in the UK this week, is about this two remarkable men and the fifty years they've shared together along with their passion for art.

They met in 1958, the year Saint Laurent presented his much acclaimed first collection for Christian Dior, moving in together after only a few months. They opened their Haute Couture House in 1962 with the financial support of an American investor.

Yves Saint Laurent and his muses, Betty Catroux (left) and Loulou de la Falaise, 1969

In the film, there's a moving picture of Saint Laurent crying after the overwhelming success of his first collection as an independent couturier. At the end of his 44 year career, he declared living through his work and for his work.

But his life was far removed from all the apparent bliss, Bergé says the expression "fame is the dazzling mourning of happiness" sums up Yves Saint Laurent perfectly.  

Opéra-Ballet Russes Collection, 1976

"I have experienced many forms of anxiety, many forms of hell, I have known fear and terrible solitude, the false friendship of tranquilisers and drugs, the prison of depression and mental homes. I emerged from all that one day dazzled but sober." Yves Saint Laurent

When Saint Laurent pushed himself to the edge, Bergé left him for a while but moved to an hotel at the end of the street, admitting he couldn't be any further away from him. The love between them had an emblematic value, they were bound to each other, giving both courage and power.

Laetitia Casta as an YSL bride, SS 1999 couture show

They were very passionate about art, building up an impressive collection throughout the years which Bergé decided to sell upon Saint Laurent's death in 2008. Hughes Edmeades, deputy chairman of Christie's South Kensington, described the momentous auction as "a once-in-a-century sale".

Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé Paris home

It raised $477 million and the majority of the proceeds from the sale, held by Christie's in collaboration with Bergé's own Paris-based auction house, Pierre Bergé & Associates, have supported the couple's foundation and medical research against AIDS.

How could Bergé let go of such an amazing art collection which he described as being part of his soul and his life? The answer can be read between the lines, loosing such collection is nothing compared to loosing someone who has been by your side for fifty years.

Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé

I think it was also a way of Bergé preparing himself for his own death, leaving no attachments behind. He is a proper gentleman, whose elegance goes far beyond style, but his eyes in the film reveal an immense and inconceivable sadness. His tremendous loss is almost palpable. 

"The most important encounter in life is the encounter with oneself." Yves Saint Laurent

Yves Saint Laurent's last show was in 2002, when according to Bergé, the couturier profession had been handed over to tradesmen. The brand lives on through the capable hands of Stefano Pilati.

DVD cover with a dress from the Mondrian collection, 1965

Another fashion DVD released in the UK this month:
Ultrasuede: In Search of Halston