Only after watching Pierrre Thoretton’s directorial debut L’Amour Fou (2010) do you begin to realise the influence that couturier Yves-Saint Laurent had, not only on the world of fashion, but also on everyday culture. Charting the decision by YSL’s business and personal partner Pierre Bergé to sell their collection of art and personal belongings upon the designer’s death in 2008, this beautiful, yet overridingly sad documentary, is a testament to a flawed genius who – despite reaching the pinnacle of his profession – appears never to have found true happiness.
Though much may not be new to fashion’s inner sanctum, to those on the outside, L’Amour Fou gives a fascinating glimpse into a world of unimaginable wealth and decadence. Starting with their first meeting at the funeral in 1957 of Christian Dior – the legendary arbiter of taste who had taken the young YSL as his protege – and the subsequent founding of YSL’s eponymous label, Bergé guides the viewer through the designer’s colourful career of triumphs and heartbreaks, culminating in the Christies’ sale of their personal artefacts.
Despite the obvious fashion aspects – the designer’s individualistic take on the fashion show bride, the controversy surrounding the launch of his perfume Opium (featuring a wonderful advert for the scent with Linda Evangelista), and some fascinating runway footage which puts paid to the myth that Jean Paul Gaultier first designed the conical bra for Madonna – this is as much an homage to YSL and Bergé’s obsession with art collecting and the effect this had on their relationship and the designer’s work.
As the camera pans through the silent rooms of their Parisian apartment, rural retreat, and holiday home in Marrakesh, these sanctums with their paintings, sculptures and books, probably speak more about the true essence of the tortured man behind the name than his partner or friends ever could.
Closing with footage of the Paris auction, Bergé is asked whether he think – if he had died first – that Yves-Saint Laurent would have sold their belongings as he is doing. Bergé replies that he believes the designer couldn’t have let go of the collection as he would have been left looking into a void – a sad reflection on what appears was an intrinsically hollow life.
L’Amour Fou screens at the ICA from 7 November and is released on DVD on 21 November, 2011.