A soft but thorough take on the life and legacy of the neurotic, brilliant designer. Born in 1936 into a French...



A soft but thorough take on the life and legacy of the neurotic, brilliant designer. Born in 1936 into a French upper-middle-class family in the Algerian town of Oran, Yves Saint Laurent was a slight, quiet boy tormented by his classmates. As a teenager, he dreamed of designing theater sets, but a fashion design contest in Paris-Match prompted him to submit some sketches; he won third place. In Paris, fate led him to an assistant's position at Dior. The famous designer died unexpectedly in 1957 and Saint Laurent, at the age of 21, became the firm's principal designer. He spent the next several decades shocking and moving the public, shifting hemlines several inches from one season to the next, offering his unorthodox takes on the Beat movement, Pop Art, and hippie culture, mingling elegance and comfort in his designs. Guided by Saint Laurent's tyrannical lover, Pierre Berg‚, the company, despite numerous setbacks, was built into a multimillion-dollar enterprise. Saint Laurent's loyal clients included Catherine Deneuve, Bianca Jagger, and Marie-H‚l≤ne Rothschild. Things began to go wrong when, in his early 30s, Saint Laurent became addicted to a variety of drugs; they left him a nervous, strung-out wreck and made him a chronic habitu‚ of sanitariums. His collections deteriorated; even a brief resurgence in 1990 could not halt Saint Laurent's withdrawal from the limelight. He is now, the book suggests, largely a recluse. Unfortunately, while Rawsthorn, who has covered fashion and other industries for the Financial Times of London, offers a fact-filled narrative, she never convincingly grasps her subject's personality. She is clearly more comfortable dealing with the world in which Saint Laurent moved, and the great internal changes in the fashion business over the last several decades, than with his character. Yet her study fails to catch the verve and transcendent quality inherent in Saint Laurent's best work. A frustrating and dispassionate study of an enigmatic figure and his glamorous and decadent milieu.

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 1997


Page Count: 400

Publisher: Talese/Doubleday

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 1996