A frantic design team scrambles to assemble the latest line of women's wear, one worker trembling as she tries and fails to get the stitching done. Classical music drifts from the designer's studio, creating a sense of distance between Yves Saint Laurent and his product.
That remove hints at the darkness underlying the story of Saint Laurent, a movie premiering Tuesday at the New York Film Festival in Manhattan. With an emotional resonance perhaps unprecedented for its genre, the film is a must-see for entrepreneurs and fashion-lovers alike.
As the story unfolds, we face a much darker brand of innovation than fashion enthusiasts might expect. As Laurent will eventually tell us: "I'm sick of seeing myself." And as his own mother laments: "You have no more contact with reality."
Saint Laurent was an entrepreneurial force to be reckoned with, whose great designs changed the course of fashion. He began his career by designing for Dior--but in 1960, when Dior fired him, Saint Laurent decided to launch his own brand with his then-lover (and life-long corporate partner), Pierre Bergé. Saint Laurent's creation of prêt-à-porter collections, or clothing manufactured in standardized sizes and thus "ready to wear," brought him lasting recognition as one of the industry's greatest.
The film, however--which will be released for general audiences circa May 2015--focuses on a later era in Saint Laurent's life and career. It spans from 1967 to 1976, or the period in which Saint Laurent, played by Gaspard Ulliel, is forced to cope with the psychological impact of creation--something that many an entrepreneur confronts over the course of her career.
Here are a few key takeaways from the film:
Innovation comes at a price.
One of the most visually striking scenes in the movie is the moment when Saint Laurent introduces "Le Smoking," which is modeled for audiences by his long-time muse Betty Catroux, played by Aymeline Valade. Saint Laurent is often cited as the designer who revolutionized what it meant to be a modern woman. With items such as this tuxedo, women were free to admit to (and even express) an inherent masculinity. The biopic hones in on two major collections: the Liberation collection of 1971, and the Russian Ballet collection of 1976. Both were exceedingly controversial, albeit in different ways. In his Liberation collection, Saint Laurent infused his clothing with an older, more maternal feel, at a time when everything was expected to be young and hip; the Russian Ballet collection drew from non-European influences. The film skips back and forth in chronology, a nod to the inner turmoil that Saint Laurent himself experienced, and intersperses the 1976 fashion show with his last moments alive. This technique captures the sweeping impact of Saint Laurent's innovative spirit, as well as the toll that it took on him personally.
Romantic relationships may not endure--but business partnerships still can.
In the film, Saint Laurent's greatest advocate is his once-lover and lifelong business partner Pierre Bergé, played by Jeremie Renier, even as the designer strays from him on numerous occasions. Saint Laurent has a long-lasting and intimately-depicted relationship with the socialite Jacques de Bascher, played by Louis Garrel. But in the meantime, Bergé is the one negotiating deals with American investors, making difficult financial decisions, even ensuring that Saint Laurent is on track with his prêt-à-porter line--he embodies the "souciance," or worries about the practicalities, which ultimately keeps the brand alive. Even after de Bascher disappears, Bergé remains by Saint Laurent's side as testament to strenth of the co-founder relationship.
Find comfort in the small things--whenever, and wherever you can.
The film is deeply psychological, focusing on the designer's struggles and hedonism, yet audiences are also offered glimpses into his moments of joy. Saint Laurent loves listening to classical music, for example, and he finds solace in his French bulldog, Moujik, who waddles playfully around his apartment. When Moujik dies--overdosing on pills that Saint Laurent and de Bascher leave scattered on the ground--Bergé spends countless hours finding the right dog to replace him. At the end of the film, we learn that Saint Laurent's current dog is dubbed Moujik the fourth--the last in a line of man's best friends.
This film is, in short, a wonderfully intimate look at the dark side of innovation, which successfully breaks from the expectations of a traditional biopic.