COLLECTING
Thomaï Serdari on Fine Arts & Luxury
“L’Amour Fou”

More a story about business rather than a story about love, this well-edited film is a fascinating weave of documentary footage, archival photographs, and superbly set-up architectural shots. “L’Amour Fou” is a perfectly framed portrait of Pierre Bergé, who was Yves Saint Laurent’s partner for some fifty years as well as his business partner behind what turned to become a legendary fashion-house, in cynical, hard-nosed, highly critical Parisian society.

The viewer learns that Bergé and Saint Laurent met at Christian Dior’s funeral, which they both attended when they were in their twenties, the former because he was Dior’s friend, the latter because he was his pre-eminent apprentice designer.  Days after their encounter they moved in together, while Dior’s fashion house passed on the torch to the very young, extremely shy, and brilliantly talented Saint Laurent on whose hands the future of Haute Couture was entrusted. This was indeed a question of survival not only of Dior’s house within the fashion world but also the survival of Haute Couture in Paris and most importantly of Haute Couture as part of the French patrimony.  The year was 1957.

What must have been highly dramatic in real life, namely Saint Laurent’s conscription to the army and his refusal to serve, which he disguised with a prolonged stay at a Parisian mental institution, is merely the event that triggered Saint Laurent’s ousting from Dior. Would Saint Laurent have become Saint Laurent without Pierre Bergé? His lifetime partner affirmed with certainty that Saint Laurent’s talent would have resulted in a prominent presence in fashion even if he, Bergé, had not been around.  Yet, this film is mainly a portrait of Bergé and of his genius in business as a visionary entrepreneur, and superb day-to-day manager.

How else can one interpret the formidable task of finding an American investor to start-up a fashion house in Paris with Saint Laurent at the helm, when no French wanted anything to do with the fallen-out-of-favor designer? Bergé’s business acumen, his negotiating skills, and his ability to lead from the back, as is often suitable with creative talent, gave Paris a fashion start-up. This was a start-up with a vision and high ambitions and it opened its doors to the world with a punch on January 29, 1962. The fashion world changed once again for ever: Haute Couture got an extension in life by entering the world of spectacle and by blending with the arts, entertainment, music, rock ‘n roll—lots of drugs and alcohol.

A clinically depressed Saint Laurent was almost permanently unhappy despite his success. Depressed but lucky to have Bergé support him, build an empire with him, build fairy tale houses all over the world for him as well as a fine art collection that documented their strive, their struggles, and their fine taste for luxury.  The beauty of their art collection and the personal story that made it unique died, according to Bergé, the day Saint Laurent died. Because their collection had been a document to their life trajectory together as a couple and ceased to exist when the couple ceased to exist. This film is, after all, a paean to a dying collection upon the death of which the objects are released to assume a new life in other collectors’ arms. And this is how it should be. Auction House Christies and its employees, hired to dismantle this tale of life, have a prominent presence throughout the film and parallel Bergé’s intellectual meanderings. The result is Bergé’s collected account of a life filled with passion, knowledge, and perseverance to reach happiness, even if this may have been superficially dismissed as the pursuit of Le Luxe Fou. But this was clearly not the case.

© Thomaï Serdari