This Week's Wow: Yves Saint Laurent Comes to Life on the Big Screen

This Week's Wow: Yves Saint Laurent
Photo: Thibault Grabherr

In this weekly feature, InStyle’s Fashion News Director Eric Wilson shares his favorite fashion moment of the week, and explains how it could shape styles to come.

The Moment: Yves Saint Laurent, the first of two biopics about the complicated and fascinating life of the late couturier, had its New York premiere on Monday night at the Museum of Modern Art before an audience that included designer Nicole Miller and model Karlie Kloss. Fashion audiences have been following the two films closely out of curiosity over how Saint Laurent will be portrayed, and also for the drama that has ensued from the competing productions.

Being first out of the gate is an advantage for the Weinstein Company, which is releasing Yves Saint Laurent in select U.S. theaters on June 25. Shown in France earlier this year, it received mixed reviews but performed well. The movie, directed by Jalil Lespert, is visually stunning, with scenes filmed in many of the actual locations haunted by Saint Laurent himself and runway shows using authentic Saint Laurent designs. (The movie was made with the blessing of Pierre Bergé, Saint Laurent's longtime protector and partner.) But its greatest highlight is Pierre Niney, the young actor who portrays the designer with such exacting detail, down to the gesture of pushing his thick black glasses nervously up on his nose, that many of Saint Laurent's friends have remarked they thought they were seeing the designer himself on screen.

"He is a really complex character," Niney told me earlier this year. "I felt really deeply lucky when I had the proposition for the part. That's why it is so interesting. He was the archetype of that artist who is really kind of unable to be happy. He had a problem, since he was born, with happiness."

To its credit, the film portrays the designer and his relationships with Bergé and others in a less than reverential light, including scenes of the sort of drug use and debauchery that haunted Saint Laurent throughout his life and contributed to his depression. But it's also a little difficult to follow, with appearances by characters portraying Karl Lagerfeld, Christian Dior, Betty Catroux, and in one scene, Andy Warhol. The man sitting next to me during the screening pulled out his phone to read the synopsis halfway through.

This Week's Wow: Yves Saint Laurent

Why It's a Wow: Designers are hot movie subjects these days, Saint Laurent especially. The second biopic to be released this fall, Saint Laurent, directed by Bertrand Bonello and starring Gaspard Ulliel, also received mixed notices when it screened at Cannes. That film is focused on a narrower period of the designer’s life, from 1967 to 1976, and is told in a looser cinematic style, and without the assistance of Saint Laurent intimates. Bergé reportedly threatened to sue if the film attempted to reproduce any designs, though the stars of both films have at least made efforts to remain neutral.

"To be sincere, I had so much on my mind, and such a big amount of work to do on that character, I didn't even think about it," Niney said. "We were shooting six months before them, and the release of the movie was six months before them, too. So it wasn't really our preoccupation."

But will he see it?

"I'm obviously going to see it," he said. "I can’t wait."

Learn More: See the trailer for Yves Saint Laurent below, and pick up the July issue of InStyle (available now on newsstands and for digital download) for an in-depth review of cinema's obsession with fashion designers, from Coco Chanel to Donatella Versace, in the monthly column "Look Smart" on page 67.

For real-time insider insights, make sure to follow Eric Wilson on Twitter (@EricWilsonSays).

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