Controversially suppressed for nearly two decades, Olivier Meyrou’s documentary (also known as Celebration) is finally seen, and the picture it paints is a melancholy one.
Filmed over the course of Yves Saint-Laurent’s final collections in 1998 (a decade before he would pass away), the documentary was subsequently blocked by Pierre Bergé, Saint-Laurent’s partner in life and business, and now, finally, we can see why.
In the final years of his life Yves Saint-Laurent became more and more of a recluse, and his presence here is felt more than it is seen. Bergé is ever present, stage-managing every aspect of the business. Set against the backdrop of the end of an era in fashion history, as the great couture houses lost their titular designers and carried on under the leadership of new designers, only Yves Saint Laurent continued to be driven by a singular vision…for the time being.
Bergé, who passed away in 2017, was the gatekeeper for the company. Protecting Saint-Laurent from unnecessary intrusions and pushing him forward when he needs to. He is, at times, controlling of Saint-Laurent (and everyone around him) with a tempestuous nature and ever-watching eye. At one point he describes Yves as a beautiful ‘sleepwalker’, and it’s his job ‘not to wake him’.
But a deep sadness permeates the film. Partially it is about the decline of couture, how a designer lost touch with the trends of fashion, but also the melancholy of a long-term relationship that has morphed into something less than what it was. Celebrating Saint-Laurent’s birthday, Bergé gives a speech that openly admits to the duos unhappiness with life (they stopped being a romantic couple decades beforehand). Bergé’s emotions are rarely far from the surface, but this moment feels particularly raw.
It’s not all darkness however, the sheer love and joy seen in the eyes of two petit mains (the seamstresses who worked on Saint-Laurent’s dresses) is a reminder of the awe his talent evoked. And the clothes… the clothes are stunning.
Fans of more contemporary fashion documentaries will find the lack of overt storytelling here frustrating (there is no sweeping romantic score to tell you what to feel, only the occasional drone and beat). Meyrou tries to stay out of the story as much as possible, this is more fly-on-the-wall than investigative film-making.
Saint-Laurent himself is only heard in snippets of conversation overheard by the cameras, and in one sit-down interview with a journalist. The most intimate moment with Yves is the film’s opening shot, a long look at him sketching.
After a series of relatively luke warm theatrical films about Yves Saint-Laurent in 2014 (Jalil Lespert’s Yves Saint Laurent, and Bertrand Bonello’s Saint Laurent) this documentary still leaves the man himself a mystery, but perhaps that is for the best.
By Chad Armstrong
Yves Saint Laurent: The Last Collections will be released in the UK on Oct 31.