It's OK for intellectual feminists to like fashion

Blog title from Hadley Freeman's book The Meaning of Sunglasses : "Prada styles itself as the label it's OK for intellectual feminists to like".

The author is a bilingual fashion editor, writer and translator with a serious blog, cinema and magazine habit.

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Classy film: Yves Saint Laurent 

I normally use the “classy film” label for any and all film reviews I post, but rarely has one been so deserving of the title. Jalil Lespert’s Yves Saint Laurent biopic, which got unprecedented access to the Saint Laurent archives, is as elegant, as high-octane and as fashionable as the man himself.

The film starts shortly before Saint Laurent took over at Dior (1957) and ends with the Ballets Russes collection (1976). Two decades of revolutionising fashion and giving more power to women through the way they dressed. But also, two decades of drugs, alcohol and tumultuous love.

Packing 20 prolific years into 110 minutes was risky. At times, Lespert walks a very fine line between cramming short, almost cameo appearances by all the Saint Laurent legend-makers (Betty Catroux (Marie de Villepin), Loulou de la Falaise (Laura Smet), Karl Lagerfeld (Nikolai Kinski), Anne-Marie Munoz (Adeline D’Hermy) etc.) and lacking depth and substance.

Guillaume Galienne, who plays Pierre Bergé, Saint Laurent’s partner in business and in life, explains that Lespert first described the story to him as inspired by Amadeaus. He wanted to “show the creative process through a couple, through a love story”.

Despite hints of Saint Laurent’s fashion process, including a scene showing him create his iconic Mondrian dress, and hints of Bergé’s business genius, the core of the film is the Saint Laurent-Bergé relationship.

Everything has been written, especially by French media, about both men. At the French Institute UK film première, most questions focused on the contemporary perception of Bergé, who’s renowned as being a bit of a bastard.

But this isn’t a film about the Bergé of the 2000s, the political man and the guardian of the YSL legend. This is a film about the Bergé from the 50s through to the 70s, a man who always walked one step behind his partner and who then barely figured in the YSL public story. Gallienne, whose father did business with Bergé and whose mother dressed in Saint Laurent, acknowledged that he was not fond of the character at first but developed a tenderness for him as production went on.

"This is a story about how you love - and live with - a genius. The guy [Saint Laurent] comes home and he’s just had sex with half the planet, he’s a manic depressive and he’s high on cocaine… but they loved each other, not for who they wanted the other to be, but for who they were", he explained to the Daily Telegraph fashion editor Lisa Armstrong, who was at the French Institute.

As well as characters, Lespert namechecks numerous iconic YSL moments: La Vilaine Lulu, the comic book about Saint Laurent’s devil alter ego; his erotic drawings; the launch of Rive Gauche, the first pret-a-porter brand; the Ballets Russes collection…Anybody can see the film and enjoy it, but some background knowledge will help understand how significant some of it is.

This is one of the reasons why I find Entertainment One’s decision to release a dialogue-less English trailer surprising. So far, coverage in the UK has been dominated by fashion publications, or for broadsheets, reviews written by fashion editors. Outside France, where Saint Laurent is a cultural must-know and the biopic reached nearly 1,000,000 tickets at the box office in two weeks, this is unlikely to be a film people go see because they happen to be at the cinema at the time it is showing. I doubt trying not to scare viewers away with subtitles will change that.  

Choosing to advertise the movie with a silent trailer means people will miss out on Pierre Niney’s absolute accuracy in reproducing Saint Laurent’s particular way of speaking. To nail it, Niney worked with a voice coach for five months.

He also trained with a physical coach, a necessity since over the course of the film, Saint Laurent goes from the good looking designer posing naked for the launch of his first fragrance, Pour Homme, to a man puffed up by drugs and struggling to walk.

Saint Laurent is seen sketching dresses a few times. Lespert was adamant Niney would have to be the one doing the drawing on screen. For five months the actor, who says he “sucked” at sketching, took lessons with a former Saint Laurent collaborator, a woman who worked with him in his last years as a couturier.

The film received full backing from Saint Laurent Paris and the Kering group (the brand’s current owner). Last October, Hedi Slimane, current YSL creative director, shot Niney for a feature in Le Figaro focused on Yves Saint Laurent. Niney was front row (next to Lespert and Bergé) at the Spring/Summer 2014 menswear show. The house dressed him at the Césars awards in February, and likely for most of the film promotion - although suit credits are hard to find.

Earlier this month, Niney released a three minutes short for Yves Saint Laurent Beauté, La Nuit de Pierre Niney (last picture). It highlights, in black and white, his vision of a Parisian night, from the Comédie Française to the bar Montana through the Tuileries. The short is part of a series of nine films broadcast on French TV in March. It is a nice attempt at marketing story telling around the men’s fragrance La Nuit de l’Homme.

Chanel, with both the face of Chanel No.5 Audrey Tautou and house muse Anna Mouglalis appearing in biopics about its founder, respectively in Coco avant Chanel and Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky, had a similar brand and cinema tie in in 2009.

Niney is the Jennifer Lawrence of French cinema: an actor in his early 20s, heralded as a genius by his more seasoned peers, who can do no wrong and who fashion houses would really like to partner with. As the luxury sector tries to redefine the celebrity game, making sure there is something beyond a contract and money tying a house to a name in the public eye, cinema seems to be a good way to ingrain affinities in the collective consciousness.

Not that it is anything new. Yves Saint Laurent himself took advantage of it. His collaboration with Catherine Deneuve was immortalised in the career-defining Belle de Jour, which he created the costumes for, ensuring the names Saint Laurent and Deneuve would forever appear together in almost every single fashion report about either.  

Posted at 11:21am and tagged with: Classy film, yves saint laurent, Brand communication,.

I bought a t-shirt last summer for a lot more money than it was worth. I’ve worn it twice, and it has since been gathering dust, though hopefully not moths, at the bottom of my white t-shirt pile. The official reason is that I ordered it at the end of the summer, and by the time I received it, it was too cold for t-shirts. You could wear it under a jacket, you say? I hear ya.

Truth is, I can’t face wearing this t-shirt, a reminder of a less than sound financial decision. I went through a similar phase when I bought my Yves Saint Laurent Muse, leaving it in its dust bag for weeks. To this day, it spends more time in than out, although I do carry it from time to time for weeks on end.

Of course, logic dictates that having bought an expensive accessory or item of clothing, I should use it as much as possible, to get my money’s worth. I am however concerned by the quality of the t-shirt, having had a few appalling experiences of button losses with the brand I bought it from. I am not sure how many washes it will withstand before the motif starts fading. As I said, not my most sound purchase.

When I bought this t-shirt, I full-well intended to wear it. I had even started assembling outfits in my minds. As such, it should be differentiated from another category littering my wardrobe but hardly ever worn: the concept clothes.

Concept clothes are bought, generally in the sales, because I either think I look hot in them, have been lusting after them all season long or think they would be perfect for a cocktail party or a date, never mind I never go to either.

Maje is the biggest culprit. There’s the life ambition dress (which I bought, eventually, after annoying the whole family over it), a blue draped dress, which I’ve worn once in over a year of owning, mostly to justify buying it and never giving it to the charity shop, a raspberry pink dress with shoulders as big as its V-neck is low, a skirt made of so many layers of fabric I don’t even know how to get into it and my personal favourite, a corseted white lace dress I can’t get in or out of because the process is just too darn complicated.

The concept dress is beautiful but unpractical. Think silk, significant décolletage, easily creased cloth, dry clean a minimum, specialist clean preferred. It’s only useful if your life is all about sitting pretty and being chauffeured from one fabulous party to another. Think Daphne Guinness.

The concept dress isn’t for me. It isn’t even the promise of a life, or the feeling of how much better my life would be if I had places to wear this type of garment to. The concept dress is bought purely for theoretical value. It is about my obsession with building the perfect wardrobe. If you asked me what I am most proud of, my wardrobe would feature in the top five. I have something for every occasion. Except really waterproof rainwear. Which is just fine, since I’m not living in a country where it rains too often.

Posted at 5:20am and tagged with: first person, dream shopping, yves saint laurent,.

After the lipstick effect, the Yves Saint Laurent Arty ring effect: the economic downturn has seen a joint rise in the sales of cosmetics and rings in the £50-£200 price bracket. Both items allow to buy big fashion names for a fraction of the price, both items are part of what John Brady, head of commercial for the John Lewis and Waitrose partnership card describes to The Press Association as “people trying to cheer themselves up by splashing out on small treats”.

The ring is expensive enough to be considered a luxury item, but not so expensive it seems extravagant or breaks the bank. Whereas your lipstick will likely run out within a year, you should still be able to wear your ring decades from now, and can even imagine passing it on to the next generation. A true fashion investment.

The £140 Yves Saint Laurent Arty ring, now available in an array of colours, shapes, materials and even in limited, more expensive editions, started the trend, taping into the brand’s costume jewellery heritage, as designed by Loulou de la Falaise. Net-a-Porter reported selling 800 of the £140 blue number alone last year, an indisputable success despite a 33% price increase over the past three years. Encouraged by these strong sales and the ring adoption by the fashion community, other well-known houses, not necessarily enjoying the same jewellery history, have started commercialising their own rings.

Following the example of the Arty ring, easily recognisable despite its lack of logo, each house plays on its codes for those rings. The Alexander McQueen rings displays his beloved skulls, Marc by Marc Jacobs sells pavé crystal and bow-adorned rings in keeping with his retro cool aesthetics while Chloé’s leather and brass is in line with the house minimalism and SS12 collection, all ensuring the price tag and potential reach of the rings don’t hurt the brand positioning.

Arty ring photo by Flickr user javicurrante

Posted at 7:27pm and tagged with: yves saint laurent, jewellery, net-a-porter, trend,.

November book reviews in February, how out of date you might think. This post has been sitting, half-written, in my drafts for the past three months. It wasn’t meant to see the light of day anymore, but the Save our Libraries/National Libraries day decided otherwise. I spent a large part of my childhood in libraries, I even trained as a mini-librarian when I was 12. Even though Amazon has largely replaced book borrowing these days (not my most sound financial decision), I hate the idea of people not having the possibility to go to one. So, in honour of Save our Libraries, here is my November book review. Now go to your closest Library and borrow one of them.

We Need to Talk about Kevin, Lionel Shriver

By far the most disturbing and moving film I saw last year, We Need to Talk about Kevin was first and foremost a thought-provoking book. A few years after her son, Kevin, committed mass-murder by arrow in his high-school, Eva Khatchadourian tries to make sense of it all in letters to her husband. Was it her fault, did she hate him so much from birth that she turned him into a monster? Or was she the only one aware of his true nature from day one, her warnings ignored by society? I left the movie convinced of the latter but the book, forcing you into Eva’s psyche, into her doubts, guilt and feelings while keeping you aware that this is a partisan account of the events wasn’t as black and white. Beyond the nature/nurture debate, Shriver also raises questions about our fascination for killing rampages and our vision and perception of motherhood. Just like the film, the book deserves to be revisited from time to time, if only to see how your own life experience changes the way you perceive Eva.

Read if you’re looking for an all-absorbing novel

Skip if you’re looking for a light read

Au Secours Pardon, Frédéric Beigbeder

Where we meet Octave again. One jail-stay after his 99 Francs antics, he’s moved to Russia to find the perfect girl, a not-too-disguised take on the perfect brand Beidbeder investigated in the previous volume. Au Secours Pardon is too similar to Octave’s prior adventures, suggesting he has neither changed, nor found redemption despite falling in love (with a beautiful, underage Russian girl he tried to pass for Chechen). Beigbeder’s take on Russia and the modeling mafia is clinical, yet, despite his clear and consise writing, his story is more difficult to believe than ever. Like 99 Francs, the novel runs out of steam half way through, the back and forth between Octave’s conversation with a Russian pope and his memories of meeting Lena Doytchevski fatal to any plot attempt. The novel culminates in an open and unexpected ending, leaving the reader with an unhealthy feeling.

Read if you’re desperate to know what happens to Octave after he’s gone to jail, if you want to read a plot as hollow as its characters or if you’re the type of reader who has hope in authors, until the end: from time to time, Beigbeder does come up with genius sentences or emotional side stories, for instance during an evocation of philosopher Gabriel Marcel.

Skip if you’ve already read too much Beigbeder for your own good. 

The Beautiful Fall, Alicia Drake

If there was such thing as a fashion classic, this biography of the Paris fashion microcosm in the 1970s and 1980s would be it. Written in 2006 by fashion journalist Alicia Drake, The Beautiful Fall has since become one of the most oft quoted books when it comes to either Yves Saint Laurent or Karl Lagerfeld, its protagonists. Setting aside the accepted Saint Laurent myth of a man martyr to his art, devoured by his twin demons of depression and addiction, Drake did her own research, interviewing Saint Laurent and Lagerfeld friends, foes and contemporaries. The result is Saint Laurent described as the ultimate manipulator playing Pierre Bergé and his entourage like puppets. Drake even questions the veracity of his drug abuse. Her take on Lagerfeld made me see his hyperactivity under a new angle. I knew him aesthete and cultured, I discovered him the perfect heir to Coco Chanel, telling tales about his life, in charge of his own myth through overinformation. Lagerfeld comes out the winner of his unnamed duel with Saint Laurent. He only accessed star status later in life but, despite the lack of a Bergé character in his life, he’s been much more in charge of his own career.

Read if you’re suffering from 1970s nostalgia, Paris homesickness or simply want to know more about the most important fashion houses and designers of the second half of the 20th century

Skip if - No matter how many books you’ve read on Yves Saint Laurent, Lagerfeld or fashion, don’t skip this one.

Blogging your Way to the Front Row, Yuli Ziv

I sometimes dream of leaving my day job and trying a career as a fashion blogger. Judging by Ziv's advice in Blogging your Way to the Front Row, Fashion Abecedaire, in terms of content, readership numbers and business goal is months away from allowing me to realise that. Even though Ziv’s book will likely be of little help is you’re a seasoned blogger, or have been following the field for a while, it’s a handy summary of common sense advise and personal experience. If nothing else, it was a wake up call for me, reminding me that waiting for readers to come to me is all well, but going out to look for them could be even better. Which is why, two days before Christmas, I was trying to update my HTML code with a Facebook Like button. Which is also why I’ve started using Flickr pictures, one of Ziv’s advises if, like me, photo isn’t one of your skills or why I’ve decided to find someone to build a proper online home for this blog.

Read if: You’re trying to monetise your blog but can’t figure how to or if you need a one-stop book containing all advise on moving your blog to the next level rather than going through hundreds of bookmarks

Skip if: You have a pure conception of blogging. No money, only content.

Images: We need to talk about Kevin promotional photo; Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow, Flickr user Cabarousse; Debut: Yves Saint Laurent 1962, Flickr user Victorismaelsoto; New York Fashion Week, Flickr user Dan Nguyen @ New York City

Posted at 10:00am and tagged with: blogosphere, book review, karl lagerfeld, yves saint laurent, blogosphere,.

This year, on 29 January 2012, the Yves Saint Laurent brand will celebrate its 50th birthday. Fifty years of dressing women (and men), of launching best-seller licensing deals, of building up Yves Saint Laurent’s legend, Pierre Bergé’s myth, of being scandalous under Tom Ford and quiet under Stefano Pilati.

I fell in love with Yves Saint Laurent after a Paris ELLE cover featuring the designer with Laetitia Casta in that bikini flower wedding dress. Although I haven’t been able to find it anywhere on the world wide web, to the extent I’ve started to think this cover was little more than a composite of my imagination, I’d date it back to his 2002 retrospective.

Despite not owing anything Yves Saint Laurent until last year, the man and the brand have been a recurrent presence in my life and have formed my fashion taste.

I remember queuing at the Petit Palais to see the Yves Saint Laurent retrospective, the amazement of the Visconti room, the surprise of discovering he’d written a cartoon book, the Catherine Deneuve wardrobe and his voice when answering Proust’s questionnaire

I remember my sister’s shock when, sitting on les berges de la Seine, after seeing the Petit Palais retrospective, I told her Yves Saint Laurent had been a drug addict, then leafing through Laurence Benaïm's biography to read the appropriate extracts

I remember being impressed by the minimalism, cut and modernity of my first real-life Mondrian dress at the Grace Kelly V&A exhibition

I remember seeing the pictures of Saint Laurent being made Grand Officier de la Légion d’Honneur in 2007 and realising there and then he would definitely never design again

I remember being moved to tears when I first heard Laetitia Casta and Catherine Deneuve sing Barbara’s Ma plus belle histoire d’amour at the end of his 2002 haute-couture retrospective. (No, Laetitia can’t sing)

I remember my eighty-year-old neighbour turning up to my birthday in a Pucci dress and Yves Saint Laurent shawl and considering her the height of elegance

I remember loving Anny Duperey’s wardrobe in Stavisky, a white, luxury symphony, and discovering, years later, that Yves Saint Laurent had designed it

I remember hearing about Yves Saint Laurent’s death, on the radio, the morning of my Indian history exam, when I should have been focusing on Macaulay’s reforms and how the British created a caste system

I remember regretting not to be in Paris to queue for the exhibition before the Christie’s auction

I remember being disappointed Pierre Bergé has decided to disperse the collection rather than keeping rue Babylone as a museum and not understanding his decision. I’ve since read in Béatrice Peyrani’s biography that he thought a private museum wouldn’t be sustainable

I remember considering the 1998 advert for the Paris women’s fragrance, with a woman kissing her lover, suspended to a helicopter, at the top of the Eiffel Tower, as the height of romanticism

I remember the 1998 World Cup retrospective, just before the  France-Brazil match kicked off. Pure Pierre Bergé marketing genius

I remember little of the Tom Ford years

I remember Stefano Pilati, shy and self-effacing, trying to convince Anna Wintour dark green is a colour in The September Issue

I remember an article on Pilati’s mastership of polka dots in one of the first Paris Vogue I’ve ever read

I remember Anna Dello Russo in Pilati’s strawberry print white dress, with a cherry hat

I remember my first Yves Saint Laurent manifesto, set aside by a passenger on the number 9 bus at the Knightsbridge stop

I remember Kate Moss looking through the Pierre-Bergé Yves Saint Laurent Fondation window, in an advert which has been on the walls of every single room I’ve moved to

I remember thinking the same Kate Moss wasn’t the best person to embody the Parisienne perfume because she was more cool Britannia than Parisian chic. Would Yves have approved?

I remember buying my first vintage Yves Saint Laurent piece, a purple skirt I date to the Van Gogh collection, in the 1980s. I remember nearly buying a red cape with a black fur collar for fashion’s sakes since it suited neither my frame, nor my lifestyle

I remember buying my second Yves Saint Laurent piece, a Muse in a beautiful camel colour in the softest grainy leather

I remember wanting the Arty ring before deciding against it because everyone was buying it. In 2011, Net-a-Porter alone sold 800 blue Arty rings.

I remember opening my wardrobe to make and inventory of all the clothes inspired by the Yves Saint Laurent collections I owe. Smoking, check, safari jacket, check, trench coat, check…

Posted at 7:54pm and tagged with: first person, pierre bergé, ysl, yves saint laurent, tom ford, Stefano Pilati, the september issue,.

L’Amour Fou tells the Yves Saint Laurent myth as narrated by Pierre Bergé and as such should be taken with a pinch of salt. Covering the entire couturier’s career, from his beginnings as the shy assistant to Christian Dior thrown into the limelight to his leaving fashion in a a gesture Bergé calls “lucid, smart and humble”, the documentary climaxes with the 2009 Christie’s auction of the couple’s art collection. Hinting at their personal difficulties and at Saint Laurent’s addictions, Bergé tells the story of their love without highlighting his role in the YSL empire beyond pictures of his short-tempered self at fashion shows and at Saint Laurent’s side.

Cutting from interviews with Bergé to short testimonies with muses Betty Catroux and Loulou de la Falaise, from shoots of the Saint Laurent - Bergé households in Paris, Marrakesh and Normandy to the preparation of the 2009 auction, the documentary offers an overview of Saint Laurent’s career which does little more than brushing the topic. Detached and sketchy, this is a film for the fashion-knowledgeable rather than an introduction to Yves Saint Laurent’s life work.

Much has been written by Yves Saint Laurent biographers about who manipulated whom in the Saint Laurent - Bergé partnership. Alicia Drakes hypothesises Saint Laurent was shy and quiet to manipulative extents whereas Marie Dominique Lelièvre argued Bergé was the one orchestrating the YSL legend. Your opinion on this documentary will be influenced by who you believe.

L’Amour Fou, Directed by Pierre Thoretton; written by Pierre Thoretton and Eve Guillou

Photos from Mongrel Media both copyright Pierre Bergé

Posted at 3:17pm and tagged with: Classy film, yves saint laurent, pierre bergé,.

The Gucci woman – you know what she’s after. The Saint Laurent woman – she’s going to torture you a little bit. You might have sex, but she will drip a little hot wax on you first

The fashion business is a lot about small boys fantasising about either their mothers or a couple of generations before them and therefore fantasising about a way of life which is already more or less extinct by the time they get to be twenty-one. They are always a little bit in a time warp.

In addition to great style, Loulou de la Falaise held a lucid regard on the fashion world. RIP.

Quote: Loulou de la Falaise quoted in Draker, Alicia The Beautiful Fall (Bloomsbury, 2006) p.101

Picture: 1980: At the Red Ball in Paris, photographed by Bob Colacello

Posted at 8:00am and tagged with: Quote on a Monday, yves saint laurent,.

Tous les matins, en me regardant dans la glace, je me demande si je suis une femme Yves Saint Laurent.

Every morning, facing the mirror, I wonder: am I an Yves Saint Laurent woman?

Carine Roitfeld, Le Figaro, October 2011 (translation my own)

I believe in the Yves Saint Laurent woman who either has her hands in the pockets of her pantsuit or is holding her lover’s hand. She doesn’t need a bag.

Carine Roitfeld, Der Spiegel, July 2011

Posted at 10:00am and tagged with: Quote on a Monday, Style Icons, carine roitfeld, yves saint laurent, handbag,.

Pierre Bergé quoted in

Laurence Benaïm Yves Saint Laurent Biographie (Le Livre de Poche, 2010) pp.637-8

Translation my own

Posted at 8:22pm and tagged with: Quote on a Monday, yves saint laurent, pierre bergé, art,.

Christian Lacroix didn’t wake up haute couture, he woke up those who were asleep. Yves Saint Laurent is leading on everything contemporary, audacious, imaginative. To say that couture is anachronistic is a hollow debate: it’s forgetting couture is a creation, an oeuvre d’art. A haute couture dress is about as rare, as expensive as a masterpiece. Haute couture is here to stay, we have to make do with it. Prints, lithographs are our fragrances. Is painting anachronistic? Is a dress made to be sold? I don’t know. Was Picasso thinking about the price of his painting while making it? Fashion is part of contemporary creativity.