It’s widely agreed that haute couture came to an official end last year when Yves Saint Laurent announced he was closing his custom dressmaking business after over 40 years. Like a respectful doc about a specific and lovely patch of rain forest before it’s obliterated, David Teboul’s behind-the-scenes look at the arcane but admirable activities of a workshop dedicated to style, quality, tradition and innovation answers the question “Why do haute couture dresses cost so much, anyway?” Companion piece to Teboul’s “Yves Saint Laurent — Time Regained” nicely complements that excellent film but is less riveting as a free-standing experience.
Docu gets off to an amusing start as faithful client Catherine Deneuve, being fitted for a few new suits, is fussed over by half-a-dozen tailors and seamstresses while carrying on an animated discussion about the hens and a turkey that were attacked by a fox at her country house. The contrast between stratospheric luxury and down-to-earth laments is both touching and funny.
With its privileged vantage on a Saint Laurent summer collection from inception to runway, fly-on-the-wall docu follows the architectural “building” of each dress, much like making a movie. As his crew of seamstresses strives to translate his vision, the moody, quietly imperious Saint Laurent is the screenwriter-director to whom all defer to for the tiniest detail — half a centimeter here, an embroidery stitch there.
Much like being an outsider on a film set, the painstaking business is both fascinating and tedious. The analogy with movie-making holds right down to the garments that don’t “work” and end up on the cutting-room floor. There’s very little glamour in the process — the talented women who do the actual sewing are borderline frumpy. Only the final result, if successful, shimmers and flows.