Fashion on Film: L’Amour Fou

Pierre Thoretton's L'Amour Fou is a biographical documentary exploring Yves Saint Laurent's illustrious life, narrated by his partner of fifty years, Pierre Berge. There's fashion, art and feuds aplenty…

Written by Matt Bramford


Yves Saint Laurent by Krister Selin

The relationship between a fashion designer and his business manager-cum-lover isn’t a new concept to cinema. Anybody who has seen Valentino: The Last Emperor will have already witnessed the trials and tribulations when two men – one a rare, creative genius, the other a businessman, have to work together on a daily basis for fifty consecutive years.


Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Berge by Karolina Burdon

L’Amour Fou is a little different, however. For starters, where The Last Emperor was a celebration of Valentino‘s illustrious career, L’Amour Fou doubles as a celebration of Yves Saint Laurent‘s life. This film is more of a romantic tribute to the designer through the eyes of his partner, Pierre Berge.


Yves Saint Laurent A/W 1965 – the ‘Mondrian‘ dress – by Cruz

From the opening credits, I was hooked. An homage to Yves‘ ‘Love‘ cards that he designed and produced for staff (many on display at the Majorelle Gardens, Marrakech), flashes of colour and geometric shapes flood the screen. I saw the film at the ICA, and its diminutive cinema with old fashion red velour seats and dusty projector make the experience even more apt.


Yves Saint Laurent at his final show by Mitika Chohan

When the title sequence has rolled, we see Yves at a press conference declaring his resignation, juxtaposed with Berge‘s touching eulogy at Saint Laurent‘s funeral. We’re only about 6 minutes into the film here, and already I’m in pieces.


Yves Saint Laurent at Dior by Cruz

The film features archival footage of Yves Saint Laurent, from his days at Dior through to his greatest collections during the 1970s and 1980s, pieced together by Pierre‘s narration. The film skips between Yves Saint Laurent the fashion designer, Yves Saint Laurent the art collector, and Yves Saint Laurent the tempestuous lover. The film culminates with the dramatic, poignant and record-breaking art auction of 2009 in which Yves and Pierre‘s entire art collection was auctioned for AIDS charities.


Yves Saint Laurent Wedding Dress S/S 1999 by Janneke de Jong

The film explores the early relationship between the pair – they met at Christian Dior‘s funeral and it was pretty much love at first sight. You can tell by how Pierre talks about Yves that this was not an easy relationship. Yves‘ crippling depression, substance abuse, morbid insecurities and changeable state of mind have taken their toll on ol’ Berge. But through all this, a glint in his eyes remains, as his relates countless stories about one of the world’s greatest, creative men.


Yves Saint Laurent for Zizi Jeanmaire by Joana Faria

Amidst the drama of the relationship, fashion fans won’t be disappointed. The film features never-before-seen photographs of Yves at Dior, adjusting hemlines and admiring his creations on models. There’s film footage of his most celebrated collections, from bridal wear to Russian-inspired collections in the mid-seventies. We see Zizi Jeanmaire dancing in one of Yves’ most spectacular creations made of feathers.


Opium advert (1977) by Katrina Conquista

Wondrous footage of the original Opium ad is one of the film’s many highlights – and Berge describes how controversial this was; not so much the advert but the name (the controversial adverts would follow, with Sophie Dahl naked and spread eagle for Opium and the first ever fully naked man in a print advertisement for M7). The irony, as Berge describes, was that Yves selected a name with a narcotic reference, when it would be alcohol and drugs that would almost destroy their relationship. Berge talks about this at length, and how Yves would only ever be happy moments after a show; Berge would have to wait another six months to witness that same level of happiness.


Opium advert (2000) featuring a naked Sophie Dahl by Katrina Conquista

But it is the couple’s love of art that dominates this film. After Yves‘ death, Berge decided to sell the collection that they had tirelessly put together over twenty years. Why? Because, after Yves‘ death, ‘the collection had lost the greater part of its significance.’ There are less sombre anecdotes in the film: ‘When Yves designed the Mondrian dress, we never dreamt that one day we would own one,’ Berge says with a smile.


Yves Saint Laurent A/W 1965 – the ‘Mondrian‘ dress – by Mitika Chohan

And so at the end of the film, during the auction, we see Pierre sitting backstage clapping his hands and marvelling at the record-breaking sales prices. Finally, he’s the last to leave the auction and we see him walking down the stairs of the Grand Palais. It’s a poignant ending to a pretty poignant film, and there’s something a bit sinister about it that I couldn’t really put my finger on – the endless shots of empty rooms? Christies‘ employees, the ‘undertakers of art’, boxing up paintings? Berge‘s willingness to openly discuss every facet of Yves’ personality, at the risk of seeming a little bitter? I’m not sure. But I loved it, nonetheless. It’s a sombre tribute, but a colourful one.

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