CRITICS have praised the first film about the “prince of fashion”, Yves Saint Laurent, with many astonished by the way Pierre Niney transforms himself into the designer.
With the air of a fashion magazine brought to life, the film by French actor-turned-director Jalil Lespert focuses on 20 years of the designer's life between 1956 and 1976 that saw him burst onto the fashion scene - first at Dior then at the head of his own house - and ascend to fame and fortune.
Le Figaro says it has a large slice of “guilty voyeurism” as it looks at the love story of Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre Bergé (Guillaume Gallienne), whose up-and-down relationship reveals the "dark, sombre face" of a man who at times plunged into depression, drugs and alcohol, and was unfaithful.
Elsewhere, Le Point says Niney and Gallienne bring new life to the complementary relationship between the genius and his rock, and said Bergé’s decision not to veto certain secrets gives it extra force and sincerity.
Feted as a visionary but tormented genius who reshaped the silhouette of 20th century women, revolutionising their wardrobes with a new androgynous style that mirrored women's push for a stronger social role, his YSL logo became synonymous with all the latest trends
Saint Laurent, who died in 2008 aged 71, is widely credited as the first to employ black models, and British supermodel Naomi Campbell in 2008 paid tribute to a man she said promoted women of colour on the runway.
Director Jalil Lespert said he wanted to "tell a love story and at the same time a story about people who fight for their dreams".
He pointed to "the historic and national importance" of the designer "through his creations, men's clothes - trousers, tuxedos, reefer jackets - which he democratised for women at a time when French society was changing".
For Lespert, the designer embodied "absolute timidity, extreme elegance."
Saint Laurent is played by 24-year-old actor Pierre Niney, a rising star who joined the Comedie Francaise theatre when he was just 21. Tall, slim, and wearing Saint Laurent's trademark black-rimmed glasses, Niney morphs into the six-foot designer in the film.
It was a task that took months of work as he first read up about Saint Laurent to get his head round a person he knew very little about – and, four-and-a-half months later, was taught fashion design and drawing.
Niney also underwent coaching to imitate Saint Laurent's soft, halting voice. "I worked with a woman who drew for Saint Laurent for 15 years. I also learnt to recognise the... coded vocabulary of workshops."
Bergé paid tribute to his work, saying in an interview: “He has literally burgled the entire character of Saint Laurent.”
Gallienne is also part of the Comédie Française and Lespert said he wanted two actors who had received classical theatre training to better encapsulate the language used at the time, and Saint Laurent's specific way of speaking.
Saint Laurent was born in 1936 in Algeria, when it was still French territory, and a shy lonely child born to a well-off family, he was taunted over his homosexuality and became fascinated by clothes.
He arrived in Paris in 1953, aged 17, with a portfolio of sketches and the following year won three of the four categories in a Paris design competition - the fourth went to his rival Karl Lagerfeld, now at Chanel.
Saint Laurent started out at Christian Dior and then struck out on his own, with Bergé taking care of the business side as they went from strength to strength.
But in his later years, the depression that haunted him all his life became more oppressive, and at his farewell bash in 2002 Saint Laurent admitted to having recourse to "those false friends which are tranquilisers and narcotics".
© AFP/Connexion - Photo: WY Productions