Yves St. Laurent: His Life and Times/5, Avenue Marceau 75116 Paris

Laura Clifford 
Yves St. Laurent: His Life and Times/5, Avenue Marceau
Robin Clifford 
Director David Teboul, curious about the justification of the high price of haute couture, journeyed into the house of designer Yves St. Laurent and presents "Yves St. Laurent: 5, Avenue Marceau 75116 Paris" to let the viewer decide.  As a companion piece, he also made a standard biographical documentary, "Yves St. Laurent: His Life and Times."

These two pieces are completely different stylistically, with the portrait of the YSL house being the richer experience, yet both together offer a nicely balanced portrait of a man and his work.

"His Life and Times" offers the usual interviews intercut with historical footage and stills. St. Laurent recalls a happy childhood by the sea in Oran, Algeria, which he says influenced his designs, although the filmmaker offers nothing to support this claim.  Yves got his aunt to change her dress and the age of 3 and informed his relatives not much later that he would be famous in Paris.  In footage shot last year, his mother says she was aware of homosexuality, but his father was not.  His mother is particularly proud describing her first meeting with Dior, who informed her that her then twenty year old son would take over from him in 3-4 years.  Dior died 4 days later.

The film traces St. Laurent through the creation of his own house with long time business and life partner Pierre Berge along a bumpy time line.  The inclusion of a banal 1950's interview on America and its women is odd, as is the conclusion of Berge's first interview when he leaves the frame to attend to noisy parrots.  Muse Betty Catroux describes their shared taste and her influence on the androgyny of his early designs.  Muse and accessory stylist Loulou de la Falaise hints at his bad physical and emotional health, but the details are never forthcoming.

Saint Laurent's style and influence is shown intermittently, albeit not conclusively.  Color-blocking in the 1960s is shown in montage and stills inform us that we are seeing the 'first' safari jacket and 3/4 length coat.  The most successful sequence is de la Falaise's description of a trip to Russia, where St. Laurent informed the women how to create an outfit with what they already had.  This is followed by footage of a collection clearly influenced by the journey. His legacy includes his early embrace of ready-to-wear and his employment of the first Black model to grace Paris runways back in 1962.

In contrast, "5, Avenue Marceau 75116 Paris," shot last year, offers no interviews or historical perspective (except when one seamstress takes out a vintage 1958 Dior YSL design to show the chief embroiderer a desired effect).  One or two sentences of initial narration explain that a collection takes about eight weeks, then we're left to our own observations.

The film begins with St. Laurent's famous friend and client, barely mentioned in the earlier doc, Catherine Deneuve as she tries on a new wardrobe surrounded by YSL employees.  This is haute couture treatment, private and personal.

Teboul then sets up a stationary camera (which occasionally zooms in and out or pans) within the several different workrooms of the house of YSL.  St. Laurent mostly works at a large desk in a cluttered room where one wall is a giant mirror.  His drawings are laid out and his head seamstresses proclaim over the 'embarrassment of riches' before whisking them off to make them reality.  The clothes are paraded before the designer in multiple stages and alterations are made.  This is truly a creative art.

Long takes and St. Laurent's deep calm have a meditative effect.  The simple blacks and whites of drawings and mockups gradually attain the color of the glorious fabrics which bring the dresses to life.  Attention to detail is amazing, from drape to the effect of different undergarments to embroidery and accessorizing.  When all is said and done the high prices of couture are understood. Teboul could now take this piece and edit for another purpose - the complete workings of a couture house.  Sadly, Yves St. Laurent closed its haute couture business on October 31, 2002.

"His Life and Times" B
"5, Avenue Marceau 75116 Paris" A-
Both films together B+

Robin's reviews coming soon!

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