The other evening I saw Pierre Thoretton’s L’amour Fou at the IFC Center. I was anticipating the film for some time not only because I consider Yves Saint Laurent to be the greatest designer in the history of fashion but also because I’m convinced that he’s influenced the dress of every woman in Western society. While I was disappointed in the film (plodding pace and meandering plot), it was visually stunning to see Saint Laurent at work in his atelier or to watch his rainbow hued group of models glide down the runway wearing Le Smoking, a safari minidress or sumptuous ensembles from his fall 1976 Russian collection.
In her book The Beautiful Fall, Alicia Drake chronicles the heady days of 1970s Paris by documenting the rivalry between Saint Laurent and Karl Lagerfeld. She follows the designer from a youth in Oran, Algeria all the way through his career as a couturier. When I read the book several years ago I felt I was getting a full-bodied picture of Saint Laurent the man, in addition to Saint Laurent the designer. This is where the film is lacking. L’amour Fou certainly gives the viewer a look into his professional career, but the emphasis was more on Pierre Bergé and Saint Laurent’s passion for art as well as their personal and professional relationship. But it never fully settles into either narrative. Instead it ricochets from one point to the next.
A year before his death (at the suggestion of my Counterfeit Caper cohort), I sent Saint Laurent the only fan letter I ever wrote in the form of a get-well-soon card while he was convalescing at the American Hospital in Paris. Who knows if he ever read the short and saccharine note I wrote, but I wanted to impart what he meant to me not only as a woman but also as an observer of dress. My most cherished item of clothing is a Rive Gauche skirt from 1980 that I love it for its specious simplicity. The piece is essentially a modified circle skirt, but the construction is exquisite and the quality is rarely seen in contemporary ready-to-wear due to diminishing production standards from cost-cutting.
It’s absolutely dreadful that for some Saint Laurent has been reduced to a three-lettered logo plastered on a t-shirt. L’amour Fou did a tolerable job of countering this, but that’s not good enough for a movie documenting Yves Saint Laurent. It would have been a more effective film had the director focused more fully on the designer’s passion for art, his relationship with Pierre Bergé or as a visual survey of his life as a designer, not a mediocre mix of all three. Saint Laurent contributed far more than initials to fashion; he made modernity in clothing the standard. Unfortunately, Thoretton failed to capture this seamlessly.
Cost per wear is easily one of the major tenets of Style Therapy. It’s the purchase price of an item divided by the amount of times worn. In essence, a pair of Ann Demeulemeester boots worn throughout the year ends up costing less than the $30 floral jumper purchased at a high street store.
Five years ago I had just started working with Tim Gunn at Parsons School of Design. Each year the school throws a benefit dinner and runway show that features the most gifted students of the graduating class. Influential people in the fashion industry attend the show with eyes on these young, emerging designers. Editors such as Anna Wintour and buyers from Barneys and Saks peppered the dining tables throughout the venue.
While the evening is all about the students, I wanted to represent myself and the school in the best light possible. Alain de Boton note that those without status are invisible. I needed quick access into this world I was only beginning to penetrate. So I set out to buy the most exquisite shoes I’d seen in a long time: the Yves Saint Laurent Dada pumps. Before purchasing them, I called up all of the stockists that sell YSL in New York with the intention of placing the pumps on hold until I was able to retrieve them after work. Barneys didn’t have them. Neither did Saks or Bergdorf’s. I called both YSL boutiques and was relieved to find out that the second one had the last pair of size 38.5 in North America (including Canada and Mexico). There was another problem. Since I’d left a well-paying job in advertising for fashion, I’d taken a steep pay cut. I had to borrow the money from my boyfriend (now husband) and pay him back in two installments.
At the 57th street boutique, the shoes felt like cinder blocks on a sharp incline. I could barely walk in them and I certainly couldn’t flex my feet; but I had to have them. The evening of the benefit show, I wore my beat-up flats to the venue and changed into the Dada pumps while sequestered upstairs. Bill Clinton, the honoree of the evening, didn’t notice them, but Anna Wintour certainly did. I saw her checking them out from a distance and I felt marvelous. I felt even better after the event was over and I limped over several avenues to the subway, comfortably back in my beat-up flats.
They say love shouldn’t hurt. Neither should fashion. I only wore the Dadas a handful of times after that, once to the tents at New York Fashion Week and to several parties where I had the luxury of remaining seated for the duration of the evening. I encourage all of my clients to donate or sell any items they haven’t worn in over a year. I ended up selling them to a consignment shop, with the intentions of swearing off discomfort forever. This lasted only a couple of years, as the Alexander Wang Natasha pumps lured me in with the same results in the end. Shoes hurt in the store—>bought them anyway—>wore them a couple of times on the verge of tears—>sold them to a consignment shop for far less than I paid for them.
eBay used to have an abundance of Dada pumps, varying in color and style. This signaled that a portion of the population of women (and men) couldn’t bear to walk around in the beautiful cinder blocks. My sole pair of uncomfortable shoes are the Martin Margiela Unfinished pumps. But they just need a bit of breaking in.