How 'Yves Saint Laurent' Director Jalil Lespert Got the Support of Pierre Bergé

"He trusted me. I don't know why."
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Dhani Mau
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"He trusted me. I don't know why."
Photo: Courtesy

Photo: Courtesy

Pierre Bergé, Yves Saint Laurent's former business and life partner, who owns the rights to Saint Laurent's body of work, does not lend his support to just anyone.

He famously disapproved of both Tom Ford and Stefano Pilati while they were designing Yves Saint Laurent, but has been nothing but supportive of Hedi Slimane, even though he'd never really designed womenswear before he took the reins, as well as dropped the "Yves" from the ready-to-wear branding.

Perhaps Bergé just likes him, as this is what seems to be the case with Jalil Lespert, the director of "Yves Saint Laurent," one of two biopics about the late couturier coming out this year, but the only one with the support of Bergé and, thus, access to his archives and memories.

"I wouldn't have made the film without Pierre's consent – not because of the important figure he is, but because he was his lifelong companion," said Lespert. "When it comes to Saint Laurent's life, Pierre Bergé is an integral part of it – you can't portray the former without portraying the latter. I needed to feel Pierre was by my side and access specific information only he could give me."

During a roundtable interview with Lespert and Pierre Niney, who plays Saint Laurent, Lespert said that he simply asked, through the film's producer, to meet with Bergé. They had lunch and chatted about growing up middle class. "We talked about that the fact that I wanted to make a movie about people who fight for their dreams and make [them come] true even if they have to pay the price for that." He says it was "very simple" to get Bergé's support, as they only talked for about 20 minutes. "He trusted me, I don't know why, it's crazy."

Meaning, all of the YSL clothes in the film — from the Mondrian collection to the Russian Ballet collection — are real, and the film wouldn't have been the same without that. For one, it changed Niney's opinion about fashion being art, which he didn't feel was the case at the start. "I was thinking like, what the fuck, it's just a freaking dress, I didn't expect to be really touched and moved by a dress, but that happened during the shooting," he said. 

He and Lespert also spent a lot of time researching the craftsmanship that goes into couture and how a fashion house runs. "We had to recreate how fashion was 50 years ago, so I worked a lot on documentaries, different books, articles, everything. We worked a lot with people who worked with Yves Saint Laurent, lived with Yves Saint Laurent." To Niney, having that background knowledge made seeing the clothes that much more affecting.

Pierre Niney and Jalil Lespert at the film's New York premiere Monday. Photo: Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty

Pierre Niney and Jalil Lespert at the film's New York premiere Monday. Photo: Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty

And Niney wasn't the only one who got emotional during filming. Without giving too much away, there is a scene where Saint Laurent walks around backstage at the show and Bergé was present as it was being filmed. "Pierre Bergé saw him and he was so moved and it just became clear why we were doing this movie," recalled Lespert.

The film, in which Pierre Bergé (played by Guillaume Gallienne) and muse Victoire Doutreleau (played by Charlotte Le Bon) feature heavily (Betty Catroux, Loulou de la Falaise and Karl Lagerfeld also make appearances), will probably not please everyone, as biopics often don't. At the center of it is a love story between Saint Laurent and Bergé, which might remind some of the 2011 documentary "L'Amour Fou." The film also dives heavily into Saint Laurent's darker moments of drug and alcohol abuse and manic-depressive episodes. And then there's the fashion stuff, which drew me in the most. 

Though, some critics felt it was too promotional. The Guardian, for instance, called it "pure corporate self-endorsement," though both Niney and Lespert denied that they were trying to promote the brand or that the brand wanted them to. Though, YSL Beauty did sponsor last night's red carpet premiere in New York.

"Yves Saint Laurent" makes its New York debut June 25 at Film Forum.