Fashionable movies

Fashion documentaries: Yves Saint Laurent and Signe Chanel

Yves Saint Laurent: His Life and Times

A career in fashion should come with a complementary set of steely nerves. At least that’s the impression I’m left with after watching a large chunk of fashion documentaries. The stress, the constant questioning of ones abilities, harsh critics and of course a lack of sales can probably bring down even the most sturdy personalities. No wonder some of them turn to chemical substances in search of relief.

Here are a few mini reviews of fashion documentaries I’ve seen lately.

Yves Saint Laurent: His Life and Times: This is a very moving and candid portrait of the designer that helped modernize the way women dress. The movie is based on interviews with the designer and his family, friends and associates. Everyone talks really openly and personally and gives great insight to both his career and his often troubled personal life. Normally I don’t like this “talking heads” format in documentaries, I prefer those who are mixed with fly on the wall shots, but this is really well executed. From 2002.

Yves Saint Laurent 5 avenue Marceau 75116 Paris: Same director but this movie shows the development of a couture collection. It must have been the longest 1,5 hour I’ve spent in front of a screen lately. Everything goes soo slow. The movie is centered around the evaluation process and is set in the show room where the fit models stride with their dresses in various stages of finishing.

There are a lot of awkward silences which I attribute to the fact that the collection is really not working. The styles look incredibly dated, although it’s made in 2001 the clothes are dead ringers for the stuff I remember from the 80’s Swedish fashion tv-program Modejournalen (The Fashion journal). I would’ve preferred to see more from the YSL seamstress ateliers instead.

Both YSL documentaries are available on the same DVD compilation.

Yves Saint Laurent 5 avenue.

Signe Chanel: If the YSL couture was a sleeping pill, the Signe Chanel documentary is more of an adrenaline shot. Again it’s about the development of a couture collection, but this series makes the clever choice to focus on the seamstress, which makes for fascinating viewing and some subtle drama. Like blood on some precious silk, stress fueled all-nighters and the consequences of having Karl Lagerfeld making last minutes changes in some designs and all the hard work the seamstresses have put in is for nothing. This documentary is great for anyone who wants to understand what haute couture is all about.

Signe Chanel is available on YouTube.

Signe Chanel

Signe Chanel. The seamstresses takes a yogurt break.


  • Christina
    December 26, 2008 at 11:30 pm

    I couldn’t stop talking about Signe Chanel for days after I saw it. I haven’t seen the YSL films yet.

  • Johanna
    December 27, 2008 at 10:29 am

    >>Christina: I know what you mean, it's definitely one of my favorite fashion documentaries! As for YSL I'll think you'll enjoy the first one a lot as it would be a great compliment to the YSL exhibit. They talk a lot about his impact on fashion and it really made me understand how important he was in his heydays.

  • luckylibbet
    December 28, 2008 at 12:24 am

    I will have to look at the YSL documentaries before I go back to see the YSL exhibit at the DeYoung in January for the second time.

  • Johanna
    December 30, 2008 at 8:52 am

    >>Luckylibbet: Oh, a second time! Sounds like a great exhibition, I'm very very envious, big name fashion designer retrospectives are very unusual here in Sweden.

  • luckylibbet
    December 31, 2008 at 6:00 am

    >>Johanna, it is a TERRIFIC exhibition, and we are very lucky to have it in San Francisco. Our museums were ravaged in the 1989 earthquake, so it has been very difficult to get good quality traveling exhibitions to come to San Francisco. We had to rebuild them from the ground up in order to secure insurance for the art on display. Now that the (re-built) museums are available we finally get a chance to see the GOOD exhibits! My mother-in-law and my daughter are eager to see this one, and I am looking forward to seeing it again.

  • Kyle
    November 15, 2010 at 4:47 am

    sigh, signe chanel isn't at PPL either….thanks for the youtube link!


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