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Cannes: How 'Saint Laurent's' Costume Department Dressed Style's Biggest Star (Q&A)

Bertrand Bonello's long-awaited film about Yves Saint Laurent debuts at Cannes on Saturday. And this is how historic consultant Olivier Châtenet used his own vintage YSL collection to dress the film.
Chatenet in front of one rack of his extensive YSL collection
Courtesy of Subject

Fashion biopic Saint Laurent, directed by Bertrand Bonello, will make its debut at the Cannes Film Festival this Saturday. And probably more than any other film, the costume department is under close watch: The eagerly awaited 90-minute movie, picked up Wednesday by Sony Pictures Classics for North American distribution, has not been officially blessed by Pierre Berge.

"I certainly won't seek a ban on his movie, but I do own the moral right to Yves Saint Laurent's oeuvre. And if the moral right is breached -- in other words, if clothes or sketches that are not by Yves Saint Laurent are shown -- then I do reserve the right to take action," warned Berge, the former Yves Saint Laurent partner, to WWD in January.

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Contrary to the recent Yves Saint Laurent biopic by Jalil Lespert, Bonello's Saint Laurent film was not granted access to the archives of the Foundation Pierre Berge-Yves Saint Laurent, which holds 40 years of iconic pieces from the designer's celebrated career.

As a result, Anais Demant -- the Cesar Award-winning costume designer of Bonello's 2011 film, L'Apollonide -- was tasked with the rather intimidating job of bringing the historical veracity into each costume of Saint Laurent. While figuring out how to overcome the film's costume challenge, Bonello received a phone call from French designer, artistic director and stylist Olivier Chatenet.

"A friend of mine had tipped me off that Bonello was about to do this feature about Yves Saint Laurent's life and work during my favorite period, 1966 to 1976," the fashion designer explained to Pret-a-Reporter over the phone from Paris. "It was impossible not to call him. I am usually a short self-seller. But I was adamant about my expertise. I had to be this film's historic consultant, my final title."

Armed with an iPad full of photos of his massive 3,000-piece vintage YSL personal collection, Olivier Chatenet didn't have a hard time convincing Bonello that he was the right man for the job. A few days later, he was meeting Demant for what was about to become a nine-month collaboration of epic style proportions.

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Pret-a-Reporter: You come from the highest corners of the fashion world -- first, as Azzedine Alaia's assistant, then having spent five years at Thierry Mugler's studio before launching Gwyneth Paltrow and Madonna's adored E2 label. What have you learned transitioning from fashion designer to historical consultant?

Olivier Chatenet: That [being] a costume designer is a work that I won't be able to do at all! I have the highest admiration for Anais Romand. She had to churn out sometimes 150 costumes for one scene. … It's a logistic, a human management task, way beyond my capacities. At the beginning, it was not obvious how we were going to collaborate. But we quickly ascended to a place of mutual respect. I think it was a relief for her to have my back on the historical side. And it was obvious that I had no desire to steal her show. I just wanted to make sure that everything will be maniacally accurate.

Did you have to correct fashion-industry inaccuracies in the script?

Only a few. Bertrand gave me the script to read on the first day, and I pointed some out. For instance, as an insider, I know the protocol at a couture studio. A "petite main" (basic sewer) would never, ever speak to the designer, not even with a "Monsieur." Or the scene with a Mondrian dress: Yves Saint Laurent was supposed to spend too much time working on a wrong detail.

I ended up providing the team with 800 photos from my personal collection for inspiration purposes. Plus I lent them 15 to 20 looks for each of the main characters: Loulou de la Falaise (Lea Seydoux) and Betty Catroux (the model Aymeline Valade) as Yves Saint Laurent's muses; Pierre Berge (played by Jeremie Renier); Jacques de Bascher (YSL's lover, by Philippe Garrel), Anne Marie Munoz, (the legendary head of YSL studio, by Amira Casar) and Yves Saint Laurent himself (Gaspard Ulliel).

You own what is probably the most complete private YSL pret-a-porter collection in the world from the 1965 to 1980 era, but nobody knows it. How did you start amassing such an epic grouping of goods?

Well, I always collected -- since the beginning of my fashion career in the early '80s. In the early 2000's, I had this brand, E2, with my former wife, Michele Chatenet. We were reworking vintage pieces. I started buying a lot more. Then I really got into Yves Saint Laurent. At this time, you were still able to find less than $45 blouses at the Marche aux Puces de Clignancourt. I remember not picking up a blouse, just because it was the end of the day and I was tired and didn't feel like walking back to the dealer. Today, everything is 10 times higher. It is not rare to find pret-a-porter items for $650 to $1350, or more.

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What was the most impressive scene to film?

Probably the reconstitution of Saint Laurent's famous Ballets Russes collection of 1976, filmed at the show's original venue, the Westin hotel (formerly the InterContinental). The real show lasted some three hours. it was the apotheosis of Saint Laurent's famous ethnic inspiration. The most challenging for me was to dress the front row. As it was the '70s, the costume department had it big on the polyester shirts and wide ties. I had to point out that these were high-level fashion people, and Hermes navy ties were surely more relevant.

What were your biggest challenges in making the film?

I haven't seen the film yet, so I will tell you after the screening! The very few people who have already seen the film, like Catherine Deneuve, loved it. So I am totally confident. But I worked mainly during the six months of preparation, not much during the three months of filming. Every look had been tried, fitted and styled (makeup, hair, accessories) on each actor, in the Paris outskirt studio where the costume department (some 12 people) was settled. I know that they had some unexpected moments during the filming. For instance, Saint-Laurent/Ulliel was supposed to wear a black shirt that didn't work on a black sofa. Bonello's solution was to have YSL borrow a Jacques de Bascher robe. I am not 100 percent sure that YSL will have borrowed that flower-adorned robe. … But the robe itself is 100 percent historic!

Saint Laurent will premiere at the Cannes Film Festival on May 17. Be sure to follow Chatenet's instagram (@olivierchatenet) to catch a behind-the-scenes look at the red carpet and beyond.

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