I didn't expect Yohji Yamamoto to utter the word "gorgeous" several times in the opening scene of the short film Yohji Yamamoto: This is My Dream that documents the run-up to the S/S 10 Y-3 show in New York, directed by Theodore Stanley. I associate the word with a brassy blonde making kiss noises with juicy red lips, not a 68-year old Japanese designer who undoubtedly is up there in mine and many other's top ten of inspirational figures in fashion.
I guess I wouldn't mind being cocooned in Yamamoto's version of 'gorgeous' if that involved an oversized, perfectly formed black wool coat, something that I've been searching for obsessively on eBay ever since I was 17 and had an ephiphanal experience of trying on an Yohji coat in Hong Kong. To Yamamoto, the word doesn't call for sensationalist excess but instead is about boiling it down to clothes that are seeped with heartfelt feeling and purity. Seeing Yamamoto at close quarters and at work in this half-an-hour short, only serves to demonstrate the devastatingly "gorgeous" simplicity which he and his staff embody in dress and in the designs they produce. I enjoyed his autobiography Yohji Yamamoto: My Dear Bomb as well as the Wim Wenders film Notebook on Cites & Clothes immensely and this film is a truly wonderful updated accompaniment despite its brevity. The highly quotable nuggets from Yamamoto just keep coming‚Ä¶
"I didn't want to disturb people's eyes. Too many colours. I am very tired to look at colour. For my total life, I am comfortable being in black."
"I was born in the ruins (of bombed Tokyo) I had no memory of Japanese culture because those things were all destroyed. This is my root – the ruined Tokyo."
"I'm not interested in fashion … I'm just interested in how to cut clothing."
"I have my own judge in me. And …he's always… (hesitates) judging me"
Yamamoto's relationship with Y-3 is surprising in that it was Yamamoto who approached adidas to collaborate back in 2001 before the relationship between designer and mainstream brand had even been formulated. The reovlutionary turn of that relationship is something we take for granted now. The Y-3 S/S 10 show therefore is a perfect vehicle for this documentary to take place, with its memorable World Cup related shenanigans, and Zinedine Zidane and Yamamoto himself taking a penalty kick (which they didn't show in the film). The frenetic pace of a New York Fashion Week casting and show prep provided the perfect contrast to Yamamoto's quiet and brief musings as well as a surprise turn on the guitar (not many people know that Yamamoto recorded an album and regularly jams with his band).
The DVD is available from Y-3 stores in limited edition boxes that also come with a cedarwood, patchouli, lavender and grapefruit scented candle, one that's worth burning for a bit WHILST watching the DVD and if you're lucky to have be able to watch a TV/laptop from your bathtub, then it makes for an altogether GORGEOUS half an hour – that's the Yohji sort of gorge by the way.
I wish I had a similarly positive experience with Ultrasuede: In Search of Halston (now out on DVD in the UK) directed by Whitney Sudler-Smith which was at least four times as long as the Yohji one. Despite gathering up a starry list of talking head contributions from the likes of Liza Minelli, model Pat Clevland, Cathy Horyn, Andre Leon Talley and Angelica Huston, Sudler-Smith's failed to get to the bottom of WHY Halston was such a pioneering American designer. Instead, he shimmied about in a comical 70s get-up, and revealed himself to be nothing but a Studio 54 fanboy. WOO! Who cares about the fact that Halston could cut a beautiful dress straight from a bolt of silk satin when we can talk about gay orgies at a club? Alright, so there are probably more people out in the world who are interested in the latter but at least TRY and conceal the fact that you have zero interest in the clothes and make SOME effort to understand what Halston did for American fashion.
Now, if he was going at it Louis Theroux style, where having zero interest makes for pure comedy, that would be a different thing. Except we have a poor half-earnest attempt at trying to track Halston's career from beginning to downfall with some hazy memories of crazy nights out by a few eager talking heads who look like they just want to get more screen time.
What I did find interesting was the part where they talked about Halston's disastrous collaboration with J.C. Penney's, a high-low designer collaboration in its very early and experimental form. It highlighted the problem of the general J.C. Penney's consumer not being able to justify the prices of the clothes, which depended on Halston's name alone. This sort of ahead of the curve ambition as well as less than prudent company takeovers ultimately cost Halston his label. I just wish the film concentrated more on the magic of Halston's designs and their effect on women of that era so that when the concluding part on his demise came, the loss felt would be more emphatic.
Finally we come back to an exalting high with L'Amour Fou directed by Pierre Thoretton which is also out on DVD on the UK and USA. Filmed after Yves Saint Laurent's death and centred around the sale of his and Pierre Berge's vast collection of objets d'art acquired over twenty years. Berge is central narrator, an obvious choice and you feared that telling the tale of his beloved partner might be something of a burden. He probably gets stopped in the street countless times by people asking inane questions about Saint Laurent.
Fortunately, he doesn't tire of recounting their meeting, Saint Laurent's time at Dior, the start of the label, the meeting of muses Betty Catroux and Loulou de la Falaise, and the rest of that very familiar trajectory with some of the sad and tortured times omitted. Berge telling the tale obviously gives one view of bias, a rose-tinted one but that you want to hear over and over again. It's dazzling to hear of Berge and Saint Laurent's relationship that went beyond simply being lovers – they were friends, business partners, soul mates and they were loyal to each other despite difficulties. Berge was the caretaker in all aspects or at least that's the view affirmed by him.
Having read The Beautiful Fall by Alicia Drake COUNTLESS times, the film felt like a visual reminder of all of those events with the added bonus of archive footage (my favourite bit being the YSL extravaganza show at the World Cup in 1998) as well as beautiful present day filming of Laurent and Berge's residences in Paris, Normandy and in Marrakech. This can feel somewhat slow and meandering to some but through the rich array of objects on display that isn't confined to style or period, you get a sense of the wealth of inspiration that filtered down into Yves Saint Laurent's work.
Once the packing and preparation for the final auction of these objects comes, there's a sadness because the film has been so object-focused but the Berge's sentiment iterated at the very beginning of the film, rescues the whole thing from feeling like a House and Country/Christie's showcase and that is this "But you know, losing someone wih whom you have lived, with ups and downs along the way, for fifty eyars, whose eyes I closed… You know, that is another thing entirely than seeing one's objets d'art leave."