Yves St. Laurent

It's not an unfamiliar tale: Talented yet tormented artistic genius finds success at an early age before falling prey to the seductive allure of drinking and drugs while being supported by a long-suffering, level-headed lover. But this time, the story is that of late French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent, who's more known for his influence on the coming-of-age of the modern-day fashion landscape than for his same-sex lovers or dalliances in 1970s excess.

"Yves Saint Laurent" begins in the '50s just before the 21-year-old is tasked with taking over at Christian Dior after the designer's death. The scenes are filled with the subtlety and elegance that characterize his early work; they're as beautiful as if an editorial photo shoot had come to life.

The tone for the film is set when the major player of his life is revealed: Pierre Berge, the "love of his life" and eventual business partner, will ultimately lead him to establish his own fashion house while providing personal stability.

Fashion historians and fans will appreciate glimpses of fashion history in the making. But beyond a retrospective on 20th century fashion moments, viewers are privy to Saint Laurent's rarely discussed private life and its influences on some of his most notorious designs. After an early breakdown, including a discovery of mental illness, it becomes clear that Berge is the unsung hero of the designer's success, and that his homosexuality is perhaps more a focus of the film than fashion.

Here, the restraint of early life gives way to a more tumultuous spiral that comes with the public pressures of repeatedly forcing creative inspiration. We also see that Saint Laurent, while dependent on Berge, wasn't immune to the sexual hedonism that is often accompanied by professional power.

Ultimately, the story of Yves Saint Laurent makes a compelling argument for fashion as art, and begs to answer the question if there is such a thing as innate taste.
- Maghan McDowell, San Francisco Chronicle


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