The Banned Yves Saint Laurent Documentary We Weren’t Supposed to See

For almost two decades, French filmmaker Olivier Meyrou’s documentary has been waiting to see the light of day.

Back in 1998, Meyrou was given unprecedented access to the iconic French fashion designer, Yves Saint Laurent, as he set about designing what would become his final collection. But Pierre Bergé, Saint Laurent’s business and life partner, was so unhappy with how the film portrayed both he and Saint Laurent that he refused to allow its release.

Bergé died in 2017, and with him, the legal rights to block the film. As such, Celebration was finally cleared for release last year, premiering in Amsterdam in November of 2018. Now, thanks to this year’s French Film Festival, you can see the controversial documentary for yourself.

It’s not hard to imagine why Bergé didn’t want Celebration to be seen. In an industry where beauty is everything, sometimes you have to hide the ugly truth. And the truth that Meyrou’s super 8 camera had captured over three years of filming Celebration was that Bergé went to great lengths to control every aspect of Yves Saint Laurent—both the man, and the label. It exposed Yves Saint Laurent as an inelegant figure, plagued by his own talent and riddled with anxiety and depression. Behind the exquisite designs and couture masterpieces was a man who didn’t know how to exist if he wasn’t creating. Bergé famously said of Saint Laurent that he was happy only twice a year—spring and fall, when he debuts his collections. While it’s a funny line, there’s a searing truth to it when you watch this film.

That’s not to say Celebration isn’t an aptly titled film. There are moments of joy scattered throughout—from the pride of his elderly seamstresses as they see their pieces walk down the runway to Saint Laurent’s adoration for his muses, particularly Mounia, a model from Martinique. And then, of course, there are the clothes. As classic as they are revolutionary, Saint Laurent’s designs are unparalleled. Seeing them come to life from a sketch is incredible. You’ll want to reach out through the screen and touch the fabrics with your hands.

The behind-the-scenes footage of his runway shows at the Place de la Concorde in Paris and the incredible YSL 1998 World Cup fashion show is mesmerizing to watch, whether you’re a fashion connoisseur or not. Speaking of the latter, it was the first thing I googled when I got home. Watched by an estimated one billion people, the show celebrated Saint Laurent’s 40 years in fashion and took place at the Stade de France right before the World Cup final kicked off. Anyway, I found the whole show for your viewing pleasure. Not even appallingly bad video quality can dull his creations. What a legacy.

Celebration is now showing in select Australian cinemas as part of the 2019 French Film Festival.

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