Empire Pictures // 2004 // 162 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Brett Cullum // February 17th, 2005
The life story of the man who reimagined women's fashion.
I am not a fashionista. I let the women in my life shop for me, and they often pick out the clothes I am going to wear all year long. I know and care little about fashion, and it has always seemed to be the realm of women (despite what Carson says on Queer Eye for the Straight Guy). Couture is not a word I throw out lightly in everyday conversation. To me, that word conjures up incredible artistry, and is not something one would find at your neighborhood mall or boutique. It's something Catherine Deneuve would be concerned about, and hardly the expertise of the suburban soccer mom rolling the kids out to practice. Yet I do know one magical name in the world of "couture" -- Yves Saint Laurent. The man taught me to smoke. No, not literally. Yet when I was in high school I remember YSL cigarettes with that iconic logo on them, and suddenly smoking seemed fashionable and stylish. I was a kid about to be dropped off at practice by his soccer mom in Houston, but I was smoking a cigarette that recalled images of Paris and high fashion. I had fallen under the spell of the artist who made even the unhealthy seem terribly glamorous and chic. He is the designer of choice for many glamorous women around the world. He has never really succumbed to the "ready-to-wear" trends that resulted in big names becoming available in department -- or worse, bargain -- stores. He always meant the height of fashion. Yves Saint Laurent is a legend and Yves Saint Laurent -- His Life and Times/5 Avenue Marceau 75116 Paris provides us with a glimpse into his world as he prepared to retire in 2002.
This is the kind of documentary you would find in museum screenings in some anteroom next to an exhibit of fashion sketches. David Teboul used a digital camera to produce two documentaries looking at Yves Saint Laurent as he prepares to retire from the world of couture. He does not use any flashy editing, does not move his camera much, and lets all the drama unfold in an unhurried, naturalistic way. It seems like the digital home movies of a designer talking about his life and his work. There are two features included on the disc Yves Saint Laurent -- His Life and Times/5 Avenue Marceau 75116 Paris. The first film -- His Life and Times -- is merely Yves, family members, and co-workers talking to the camera intercut with old photos from their private collection. There is no narration, and it plays out like a one-sided conversation from Yves Saint Laurent streaming out memories of his upbringing and career. The second feature -- 5 Avenue Marceau 75116 Paris -- documents the development of his 2002 collection from conception to execution. If you're expecting something dramatic along the lines of the documentary on Isaac Mizrahi, Catwalk, then you are out of luck. Laurent is calm throughout the process, and does little other than chain-smoke, pet his spaniel, and cry "Magnifique!." Everyone seems calm and collected, and very few shocking moments occur. Even when a model appears topless waiting to be draped in a silk suit it seems clinical and cool, like watching someone await a hospital gown. Voices are hardly ever raised, and there is never a sense that everything is not under control. Laurent's house and atelier (workroom) are soothing places without much fuss. About the only real excitement comes in the opening sequence of 5 Avenue Marceau 75116 Paris, where you get to see Catherine Deneuve try on some new frocks she wants to buy from the collection. She talks about roosters and hens while trying on very stylish leather suits. It's surreal, but startlingly mundane at the same time -- which is probably the most apt description of this disc.
The artistry is the only element of drama here. Many discussions center on where to gather a skirt, or how a sleeve will attach to a bodice. Nothing is personal, and that is shocking, considering that the YSL logo means something quite personal to its creator. Maybe if we saw him at the beginning of his career, Yves Saint Laurent might seem more tyrannical or tempestuous. But here he is merely a fatherly figure who gently guides an army of seamstresses to the final end product with hardly more than a word or two. To be honest, many people will find these documentaries about as exciting as watching paint dry. They are clinical and definitely not filled with anything other than long looks at the process of making high fashion. That process means extreme attention to detail and rather lengthy discussions about adding chalky tones to a blue, or whether to offer a suit jacket in organdy. Yves Saint Laurent -- His Life and Times/5 Avenue Marceau 75116 Paris is just a lot of people talking about fashion and what Yves Saint Laurent has done with it.
The presentation is a widescreen digital image, which is clean and artifact free. The sound mix is stereo, and suitably fine given the lack of anything other than French dialogue and rustling fabric. There are no real extras to speak of. Who would need them? Yves Saint Laurent -- His Life and Times/5 Avenue Marceau 75116 Paris is a special feature all itself in that it documents a historical event, the retirement of a fashion icon. I would only recommend this disc to people who have an interest in garment making or fashion. It's not going to excite anyone else, and should have a narrow target audience. But for those of us who know what he represents, this is a fine look at Yves Saint Laurent and his life and work. So skip a meal and start chain-smoking if you're into couture.
Review content copyright © 2005 Brett Cullum; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Empire Pictures
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (French)
Running Time: 162 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* IMDb: 5 Avenue Marceau 75116 Paris