Deeply troubled genius and one of the most iconic fashion designers of the 20th century – the life and career of Yves Saint Laurent has already been dramatized for the big screen in a 2014 biographical movie. However, here we get Olivier Meyrou’s touching and insightful documentary filming the master of French haute couture preparing for what would be his final collections.

It’s 1998 and French filmmaker Olivier Meyrou begins filming the behind-the-scenes- hustle and bustle of one of the most renowned Parisian haute couture houses, as Yves Saint Laurent is busy with his new collections. Prior to the films’ start a written text rolls across the screen, informing us that it also marked the end of an era because nowadays fashion designers seldom operate from their own fashion house. We then follow two former employees of YSL as they remember where they sat and worked in the fashion houses heyday. The documentary then changes from colour to b/w and we go back further in time, with archive material showing a female reporter (clearly suffering from a bad cough) interviewing YSL about how he copes regarding moving with the times and him replying that his new collections would be simpler and less playful. This constant shift from b/w archive material to contemporary footage (contemporary meaning 1998 to 2001) makes for an incredibly insightful portrait of the late fashion designer who suffered from illness and addiction to prescription drugs, going back to his times in a military hospital when he was a young man but also when he got fired from the House of Dior where he had started his career.

What might come as a surprise is that the tantrums and the drama that went on behind the catwalk were not necessarily down to supermodel bitchery but long-serving press officer Dominique Deroche as well Pierre Bergè – Saint Laurent’s domineering partner both in business and in private life, contributed as much to this toxic cocktail as the model rivalry. Another staple was former model, designer, YSL muse and collaborator Loulou de La Falaise – looking gaunt and seemingly chain-smoking (no wonder she died of lung cancer at the age of 63). Other important faces are French supermodel Laetitia Casta (a particular favourite of YSL) and Senegalese supermodel Katoucha Niane – not to forget Laurent’s beloved bulldog Moujik! Most interesting though are the people working behind the scenes: an army of so-called ‘petit mains’ seamstresses are responsible for sewing and re-sewing to ensure coats, skirts and dresses fall just the right way. As one seamstress observes: “Yves sees everything, he has very sharp eyes.” Indeed, the process from sketches to selection of fabric to sewing to finished product to endless fittings is simply staggering!

Although it was none other than the controlling Pierre Bergé who invited filmmaker Meyrou to make this documentary (shot in 16mm), he supressed the film for almost two decades, as he was worried the finished result might reveal too much about the carefully guarded image of YSL. Francois-Eudes Chanfrault’s experimental sounds and music don’t always hit the mark; that said, it lends certain scenes a haunting quality.