LFF REVIEW: “At the very heart of this chaotic yet prestigious fashion house” -Yves Saint Laurent: The Last Collections

Rating: 3 out of 3.

“The Last Collections feels as though it plucks a loose thread and the documentary itself becomes untied”

Withheld for nearly twenty years, Olivier Meyrou’s documentary on Yves Saint Laurent finally sees the light of day. Yves Saint Laurent: The Last Collections (Célébration) opens the doors to the house of luxurious and elegant fashion. The documentary immerses itself at the very heart of this chaotic yet prestigious fashion house, pulling back the curtain of YSL.

Yves Henri Donat Mathieu-Saint-Laurent, professionally known as Yves Saint-Laurent, established the YSL brand. Yves Saint Laurent: The Last Collections has unprecedented behind-the-scenes access to YSL and, therefore, Saint-Laurent himself. With the passing of Saint-Laurent in 2008, the film joins a recent collection of documentaries that spotlight the glory days of these timeless fashion designers and creatives, giving them a new lease of life from beyond the grave, The Last Collections is an addition with its undeniable exclusivity of access to the mechanisms behind YSL’s accomplishments.

However, this documentary was not plain sailing in its creation. Originally ready for a 2007 release, the film was banned by Pierre Bergé after he was not granted permission to watch the final cut. Nearly two decades since filming took place, The Last Collections was finally granted a release. The film sells YSL as a fashion house deeply rooted in detail-oriented tradition. Bordering on ostentatious with its extraction of fashion artistry, the film jumps between black and white archival footage of Saint-Laurent in his younger years and more up-to-date sequences with an older Saint-Laurent. Painting a reflective portrait of the fashion house, Saint-Laurent grows old at the helm, yet there is a distance maintained between man and camera, even when he’s expected to be central to the film. Instead, it is Pierre Bergé who takes the main role in this documentary. 

an out of focus Saint-Laurent in the foreground with Bergé watching in the background

Bergé is co-founder of the YSL fashion label. Long-time business partner and life-long companion of Saint-Laurent, the two men operate as one. Bergé was known as the ‘Dean of Yves Saint Laurent’ with his omnipresence being constant. Waiting and watching for Saint-Laurent’s approval, Bergé has little patience for any imperfections, he lingers in doorways ready to be the voice that scolds anything over than precision and exquisiteness.

In the wake of Saint-Laurent’s death, The Last Collections is a revival and a reinstatement of one of the greatest Parisian haute couture designers and his commitment to fashion. While Saint-Laurent’s name is at the forefront of this fashion brand, his face is very much in the shadows. Appearing as an enigma, he rifles through fabrics with a cigarette dangling from between his lips saying almost entirely nothing. Striving for a heavenly level of perfection, he expects every thread to be sewn flawlessly. As an icon of French couture, you would expect Saint-Laurent to step into the limelight of The Last Collections, yet he appears a sub-plot in this narrative. Barely speaking but impeccably dressed, Saint-Laurent is never revealed as anything but a man of mystery.

While Saint-Laurent’s appearances are subtle, the soundtrack that accompanies his presence is anything but. A dramatically intense score builds only to fizzle into nothingness, the cacophonous noise appears unnecessary. The disconcerting sound feels out of place and creates an artificial tension in its slow building, occasionally feeling forced. Wonderful moments where a closeness to Saint-Laurent is achieved only goes interrupted by the interference of this imposing soundtrack.

In a toast to Saint-Laurent, Bergé, with a wine glass held high, reminds the man: “Creation has a price and sometimes that price is high”. A statement that seems to peer into the future. In the deconstruction of fashion, The Last Collections feels as though it plucks a loose thread and the documentary itself becomes untied. Asking questions of Saint-Laurent’s identity without venturing any further in attempting to understand the man feels as though the film is a garment with an unfinished lining; there is a strong sense of shape with none of the exquisite detail. Having said this, The Last Collections remains an intriguing piece of documentary work considering the context of its creation, a film that highlights the legacy of Saint-Laurent at the height of his career.

Dir: Olivier Meyrou

With: Yves Saint-Laurent, Pierre Bergé, Laetitia Casta, Catherine Deneuve

Release Date: October 30th in select cinemas & on MUBI.