From my harried embroilment in a schedule that prohibits me from writing anything without without the motivation of a strict deadline, I offer my (pre-copy edited) Just Out review of a very good documentary now playing at Portland's Hollywood Theatre:
David Teboul’s Yves St. Laurent - His Life and Times, is a surprisingly accessible, down-to-earth study of the renowned designer, who is neither. Like Karl Lagerfeld and the late Gianni Versace, St. Laurent fits a sort of cultural archetype: The gay Continental elder statesman of the fashion world, an enigmatic, chain-smoking, perfectionistic creator of clothes-as-art, someone whose wide influence, inimitable style and imposing personality enable him to wear sunglasses at all times without looking like a poseur.
Teboul uses present-day interview footage of St. Laurent, who’s now pushing 70, as a narrative springboard. From St. Laurent’s memories of his colonial childhood in French Algeria and his early years as enfant terrible of the Parisian fashion milieu of the ‘60s, the film segues into archival footage of fashion shows, magazine spreads, earlier St. Laurent interviews, and- most fun of all- promotional short films that are subversive, funny, and insouciant in the best ‘60s manner (one features a cartoon heroine called “Naughty Lulu,” while another, in minimalist black and white, has a young woman scandalously switching clothes with her boyfriend and is an obvious precursor to those omnipresent Calvin Klein ads). These sections make for an excellent primer on the fascinating, luscious evolution of St. Laurent couture over the decades- his Warhol-like transformation of high fashion into postmodern Pop, something much more rebellious, androgynous, and egalitarian than it had been before his radical new take on it- as well as that of the sophisticated, driven, and complicated man who created it.
Though Teboul focuses much more on St. Laurent’s work than his personal life, it’s evident that the lines between the two were often blurred. Interspersed throughout the film are separate interviews with St. Laurent’s mother, his industry colleagues and his lovers, specifically the stoic and candid Pierre Berge, who was St. Laurent’s business and life partner for many years and was indispensable in helping him start his fashion empire in 1962, and an impressively stylish middle-aged woman named Betty Catroux, who philosophizes smartly on St. Laurent’s presciently expansive attitudes on gender and sex while recalling their shared taste for danger and disreputability.
Even if you have little interest in fashion, Teboul’s succinct, entertaining, and frequently ravishing portrait can and should be considered of general interest. More than merely documenting the historical specifics of fashion celebrities and clothing trends, it compellingly explores the life and personality of someone exclusively, heroically dedicated to the creation of beauty.
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