An updated and translated biography of the famed designer.
Journalist and fashion writer Benaïm (René Lacoste, 2018, etc.) offers a meticulously detailed, overly worshipful biography of Yves Saint Laurent (1936-2008), conveyed in prose as sumptuous as the designer’s acclaimed couture. Born in Oran in Algeria, where he was a shy, bullied child, Saint Laurent felt shame and fear about his sexuality. “Being gay in Oran was like being a murderer,” he told the author. Later, internationally famous, he saw “celebrity as a revenge on the petty humiliations of his childhood.” Recognition came early: In 1954, he became the youngest winner of a coveted international prize; the following year, Dior hired him as a design assistant; in 1957, when Dior died suddenly, the young Saint Laurent was named as his successor. Triumph followed as he mounted shows for Dior and, when he was 25, for his own company. Benaïm describes each collection in detail, including reviews—usually gushing, occasionally dismissive—and the roster of his wealthy, trendsetting clientele. “Yves Saint Laurent offered liberated women additional sophistication,” writes the author, “and he gave the others the certainty that they were modern.” He extolled svelte, androgynous models; while other couture models were slim, or even skinny, his, one commentator noted, “skirt the edge of death from malnutrition.” Besides documenting his fashion innovations, Benaïm attends to his expanding business, which came to include hundreds of shops; and his cosmetics, jewelry, and perfume enterprises, which gave the world the coveted Opium, a scent that brought in more than $3 million in its first four months. The author examines his relationship with his lover, the mercurial, stubborn, and powerful Pierre Bergé, who whipped the YSL brand into a hugely profitable empire. She also chronicles Saint Laurent’s physical and psychological descent compounded by alcohol and assorted drugs. A detailed timeline distills the events of his life, and the author even includes a playlist of music that accompanied his shows.
An adoring homage.