“I’ve gone through much anguish, many hells. I’ve known fear and a tremendous solitude. The deceitful friends that tranquilizers and narcotics turn out to be. The prison that depression can be and that of mental-health clinics. One day I came out of it all, dazzled but sober. Marcel Proust taught me that ‘the magnificent and pitiable family of neurotic people is the salt of the earth’.”
Yves Saint Laurent reads the words above with great dignity at his farewell address to announce his retirement from fashion design in 2002. His words trace the difficult moments in his life where the enormity of his unimaginable success ultimately led to his emotional and physical ruin. Aged and beaten by the decades of business triumphs and failures, his highly complex and crippling manic-depressive nature, infidelities and a dependence on drugs and alcohol, his words were both beautiful, poignant and bitingly real. At his side every step of the way was his longtime lover and business partner, Pierre Bergé. The pair first met in 1957, when a shy and somewhat geeky-looking 21-year-old Saint Laurent joined the house of Dior after the couturier’s death. It was an instant meeting of two formidable minds, filled with an untold appreciation and passion for beauty, which transcended into a deep passion for one another. The pair shared homes until 1976, when eventually a worn-out Bergé retreated to a hotel to save his sanity and relationship, having weathered decades in the emotional trenches of YSL’s personal war.
L’Amour Fou (Crazy Love) – not to be confused with the 1969 movie of the same name directed by Jacques Rivette – is a portrait of YSL’s life with Bergé, one they shared over 50 years, told through the lens of Pierre Thoretton, who makes his directorial debut using the posthumous auction of Saint Laurent and Bergé’s staggeringly enormous art collection – presenting a portrait of their life together, following the brush strokes of time right up to YSL’s death in 2008.
Bergé is the star of the film, speaking openly, sensitively and articulately about the man he loved, as well as granting Thoretton access to the YSL archives, and introducing him to two of YSL’s closest friends and muses – Loulou de la Falaise (who sadly passed away this month, aged 63) and Betty Catroux. The two recall YSL’s mesmerising presence – the glamour of the fashion era he defined by day, and the destructive party excesses they often matched him in by night. They were his bad-girl BFFs. There is archival footage, too, of YSL’s dazzling celebrity friends, including Andy Warhol, Catherine Deneuve and Mick Jagger, all of whom he was too depressed to entertain, as Bergé reveals.
Glamour comes in swathes in this film, from YSL and Berge’s homes in Marrakech and Paris, which make the decadent lifestyles of Versace and Valentino look positively cheap and cheerful in comparison. To the catwalk footage of his iconic ‘Le Smoking’ Tuxedo, the safari jacket and his Piet Mondrian-inspired minis – a nexus of fashion and art establishing him as both a visionary and pioneer.
Thoretton was also in the right place at the right time making this film, as he gives us a unique look at the fabled art collection YSL and Bergé shared, while it’s being disassembled and packed, ready for auction at Christie’s. 733 paintings and objets d’art raised over $480 million, partly to fund AIDS research. As packers carefully move the jaw-dropping treasures including Manet, Degas, Cézanne, Matisse and Picasso, to name a few, Bergé recounts their histories. It’s like watching the dismantling of a couple’s life, piece by piece, story by story, with Bergé ultimately coming across as having lived in the shadows of YSL’s obsession with dressing his own personal world. After five decades together, Bergé walks sadly but resolutely away from the past. “It no longer means anything. The works will fly away like birds and find some place to perch.”
There is a melancholy theme which runs throughout this documentary, portraying YSL as someone who adored creating moods and trends within style that travelled across time, but who ultimately enjoyed creating moods to fill his own spaces, places where he could seek refuge and hide away from the world outside his windows (which always looked out over a beautiful setting). One scene in the film shows a room in his Paris apartment, with portraits of him by Warhol hanging on the wall – a room of which Bergé says the designer was particularly fond. “It offered him a little more privacy, away from all the masterpieces we owned.” Yes, you’re thinking what I’m thinking: money obviously can’t buy happiness.
This film does, though, show that money also can’t buy love, and despite the trials and tribulations of their life together, Bergé and Saint Laurent were always a couple in the emotional sense, which extended to their uniting in a civil ceremony in 2008, shortly before the designer’s death. At his funeral, Bergé paid a moving tribute: “The Paris morning was young and beautiful on the day we first met. You were fighting your first battle that day you found fame, and since then the two of you have been inseparable. How could I have imagined that we would be here 50 years later in each other’s presence and I would be bidding you a final farewell?”
It was fitting then that the person Saint Laurent first set eyes on when he fell in love was the same person who closed his eyes for the last time.
L’Amour Fou is out in cinemas on November 7th and released on DVD on November 21st.