L'Amour Fou

There is a new documentary film entitled, "L'Amour Fou," which I heartily recommend to anyone with interest in the fashion world as well as those who can appreciate a real love story. Translated from French, the title means Crazy Love, and it is the story of the intertwined lives of Yves Saint Laurent and his life partner and business manager, Pierre Berge against the background of an auction sale after Saint Laurent's death in 2008, of their museum quality artwork, artifacts and objets d'art accumulated over the course of their fifty year relationship. The film is tastefully done, featuring Pierre Berge providing most of the narrative with additional commentary by Betty Catroux and Loulou de la Falaise, Saint Laurent's favorite muses. It opens the door to a man many consider the world's greatest fashion designer, displaying the extraordinary talent emerging from this shy but very troubled soul. And in the no holds barred rendition by Berge one cannot help but to be moved by his deep love for Saint Laurent and frustration at not being able to help him more than he did.
Perhaps this film moved me in a way different than what others might feel, but then again that could be because it was very personal to me. You see, I worked with both Pierre and Yves over a twelve-year period from 1974 to 1986 when we developed the fragrances Opium and Paris for women and Kouros for men as well as the YSL Beauté (cosmetics) line. I was then employed by Charles of the Ritz Group, Ltd, a subsidiary of the pharmaceutical company, Squibb Corporation (before its merger with Bristol Myers), initially as president of Ritz's international division and later as its CEO. During that time I engaged directly with Pierre on all business matters (including more than one contract revision) and both Yves and Pierre on several creative matters. My relationship with both men was friendly, at times confrontational, but always respectful.
The film was as accurate a depiction of both men as I remember them, though I came to better appreciate the depth of Pierre's feelings for Yves than I did in the business setting in which we then worked. The film also illuminated circumstances that arose in the development of Opium that created a serious confrontation, but one that we later resolved.
It began when Yves presented his ideas on the new perfume, Opium. During the following months his ideas were converted to guidelines for the development of the scent as well as specific drawings of the perfume container and exterior packaging. When completed, as was customary, our marketing staff went to obtain Yves approval for the designs of molds for the plastic containers as well as designs of the exterior packaging, but Yves was unavailable. Finally, recognizing that a decision had to be made, Pierre gave his approval and initialed the designs. Yves was not available to us until some four months later and when he saw the first samples of the container, he was furious, believing we had made unwarranted changes to what he had designed. He wanted to terminate the project immediately.
At that point we had invested about $2 million in the project (a lot of money at the time), principally in raw material for the plastic containers. Accusations flew by fax across the Atlantic before tempers cooled and I flew to Paris to meet with Yves and Pierre. Fortunately we had kept the small piece of lac du chine Yves had given us to copy, and when he saw it, he realized that it perfectly matched the plastic container sample. That put an end to the most serious concern and we then reviewed the changes he wanted to make, all of which enhanced the final product and which were not of significant financial consequence. One of those changes involved the cord extending from the container, which was modeled after a Japanese Inro, a carrying case for small objects. The original design called for the cord to be knotted after passing through a small open-ended plastic bead, but this seemed to bother him. Without a word, he rose, left Pierre's office and came back a few minutes later with a box of tassels. He tried one after another and when it appeared that he was satisfied, he turned to me and in French said, "Do you think this looks all right?" I remember thinking then, here is the greatest designer in the world and he's asking my opinion. And then I realized that this was simply a manifestation of the insecurity the film depicts so well.
The only time I ever saw Yves act on his own was when he was concerned about certain technical difficulties with the manufacture of the new YSL Beauté line. He called me directly, which in itself was unusual, since Pierre usually arranged our meetings. I offered to come to Paris, but he insisted on coming to New York, which he did, alone, without Pierre. In our conversation I sensed some animosity between Yves and Pierre, wondering whether this was Yves declaration of independence. It was not, but I believe as reported in the film, this was a time when they actually lived apart.
Some of the most fascinating, interesting, enjoyable and occasionally frustrating times in my business career were spent working in the Yves Saint Laurent environment. This film reinforced them.

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