Sunday afternoon I saw Bertrand Bonello’s movie Saint Laurent at the SF International Film Festival, then came home to John Oliver’s scathingly funny report on multi-million dollar clothing labels (GAP, H&M, Walmart, Forever 21, et al.) and their lack of oversight on the sub-sub-contractors who make it possible to sell a new dress for less than $5, often using child labor. Click here to read an article about the show and to watch the Youtube video.
John Oliver Tackles Child Labor
John Oliver’s report was almost 18 (truth telling) minutes long; if you feel the urge to fast forward, don’t miss minutes 14-till-the-end, when he stages a fashion show — all items priced, as are the cheapest possible foods the models are carrying. If you don’t know how it’s made, and you don’t know who actually made it, whether the kitchen is clean, or what the ingredients are — would you eat it? Knowing it was made as cheaply as possible, with no regulation or supervision, by desperate people? Oliver wants us to think about fashion that way.
Bertrand Bonello’s Film About Saint Laurent
I know relatively little about the life of Yves Saint Laurent, but I enjoyed Bonello’s two and a half hour biographical film, Saint Laurent. It is not to be confused with another biographical film, Yves Saint Laurent by Jalil Lespert, released in 2014, or the documentary L’Amour Fou.
You can see the official trailer for Bonello’s Saint Laurent — click here, then click “Watch Trailer.”
The film’s director and co-writer, Bertrand Bonello, was present at the screening, along with actor Gaspard Ulliel, who played Yves Saint Laurent in the movie. Aside from the superb production values, I enjoyed the way the movie avoided moralizing — or underlining ideas — and left me thinking about the main character for hours afterward. It follows YSL chiefly through the period 1967 to 1977, with another actor playing him in old age.
Early in the film, we get a notion of the enormous pressures created by success — the more successful he is, the more work he has to do, to inexorable deadlines, even though he was emotionally very fragile even before his success. But this information is imparted almost in passing, as we get a glimpse of the actual work in a great couture house (and as he tries to sketch a collection while listening to his schedule for months to come.)
At the end, the question is unresolved: Would his genius have been even greater without the drugs and alcohol? Or did they somehow contribute to his creativity? If he had been happy and healthy, what might YSL have created?
Q and A about Saint Laurent
The question and answer session after the screening was especially interesting, because, although I relished all the YSL designs that appeared in the movie, I was especially in awe of the superbly tailored suits Gaspard Ulliel wore. Costume designer Anais Romand didn’t just have to recreate accurate period clothing, she had to coordinate it with the progress of the character and the moods in each scene. (Ulliel not only resembles YSL, he captures his apparent shyness and charm — and misery.)
According to director Bonello, the current YSL company could not (or did not) give permission to use actual YSL runway garments, so the movie company had to set up a couture workroom and spend four months re-creating all those pieces of couture. (Ulliel said that visiting the workshop helped him understand a great deal.)
More astonishing to me was Ulliel’s explanation that one of the greatest collectors of Yves Saint Laurent memorabilia owns many of his suits, and let them be used for the filming. (After seeing Ulliel completely nude in the movie, it was hard to believe that suits custom made for YSL, who at one point in his youth weighed less than 100 pounds, could fit the actor so perfectly, and I cringed at the thought that they must have been altered, at least slightly!) Ulliel commented on his surprise at how differently suits from the 60’s and 70’s fit, compared to modern men’s suits. He said he loved how easily and freely his arms moved [in a vintage, European-tailored suit. Yes, the higher and tighter the armhole, the better you can move your arms — the opposite of the looser, American, “Brooks Brothers” fit.]
You can read an interview with Costume Designer Anais Romand – discussing House of Tolerance, another Bertrand Bonello film, set in the 1890s. There are many photos — note, nudity is involved. The film Saint Laurent also carries a warning for full frontal male nudity, sex scenes, and drug and alcohol abuse. “Rated R for graphic nudity/strong sexual situations, substance abuse throughout and some language.”
As I mentioned, the Saint Laurent film is two and a half hours long — but I wasn’t bored for single instant: A rich experience.
Shortage of Skilled TuTu Makers?
Newsweek magazine reported that Ballet and Opera companies are running out of skilled stitchers: click here. Do read all the comments from skilled costume technicians!
A costumers’ group I belong to exchanged several mails, pointing out that the article exemplifies the confusion most people (including the Newsweek writer) have between the worlds of retail fashion and theatrical costuming — and suggesting that finding skilled costume technicians isn’t difficult — if you pay them according to their specialized skills and training, and don’t expect them to come from a school of retail fashion. You can find university programs in Costume Design and Technology all over the U.S. at the USITT website, Costume Symposium. Click here.