The problem with overused words is that the more frequently they’re injected into our respective dialogues, the further they get from their original, poignant meanings. What is cool anymore? Who is truly funny? And elegance. Does anyone really consider how far elegance has come from its original meaning? The synonyms we’ve heretofore conjured include charm and gentility and grandeur and magnificence, which are close, but neglect what is sinister about elegance: the demons that reveal themselves in the wake of something so exquisite and graceful and gluttonous. No other words do, actually.
But if you’re still looking for it, you can find it. In objects and thoughts, occasionally in fashion, too. And if you need it right now, it’s at a nearby movie theater, temporarily under the watchful ownership of Yves Saint Laurent.
The anterior’s namesake famously said that elegance is forgetting what someone is wearing. This seems antithetical when considering his contribution to fashion but may fortuitously mirror the events of his eponymous and subtitled biopic, which premieres in New York and L.A. tomorrow. And if it’s true what he said, then I suppose in the matter of this film, good cinematography is forgetting that as an English-speaker, you don’t understand what you’re hearing. Or perhaps, that you’re reading subtitles.
The surface level expectations from an interactive, third-party memoir about one of the true artists-as-designers before, during and after our time were met with Yves Saint Laurent, which trailed the prolific designer from 1958, while at the helm of Christian Dior, through his friendships and dalliances and the relationship assembled with his partner and partner Pierre Bergé.
There was Paris, where Saint Laurent remained delicately within the boundaries of couture, there was Morocco, where he rejected it (“I refuse to lock myself in an ivory tower of haute couture”) to forge a fashion renaissance with his panted women and masculine tuxedo jackets and amid both countries, there were copious drugs. That and sex. And love. Specifically, the anguish that comes with the coupling of relentless love and an illness called excess.
But arguably more impressive than the eye candy, history lesson and tantalizing discourse of Yves Saint Laurent was a sense of overindulgence that settled when the film ended. There was this lingering inability to separate the emotional baggage of the narrative from the self. I assumed the turmoil of the flip side of the cataloged, earnestly monumental moments of fashion history.
Saint Laurent’s amendment on the infamous black Dior gown, shot by Richard Avedon was met with a series of mood swings, linked to manic depression. The emergence of Le Smoking in 1966 was incited by a tango with drug abuse, public sex and free love. A Fall collection, replete with bright colored and exotically printed lamé and head scarves and fur caps marked a continued struggle, met literally by a quivering Saint Laurent, cigarette glued to fingers, from 1976.
But maybe that visceral connection is the sign of a good story and perhaps more pertinently, a good movie. It was elegant, really, the whole thing.