I was sad to learn that Yves Saint Laurent had passed away last night.
(Here he is in his studio. I want just such a couch. With the same hats.)
As I sipped my coffee this morning, I decided that I would drop by la maison to offer my thanks. There was no address to look up, as I have been to 5 Avenue Marceau before to see exhibitions at the Fondation Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent. And 5 Avenue Marceau 75116 Paris is also the title of a wonderful documentary about the creation of his last spring collection. It is a film I highly recommend to anyone interested in couture, in the creative process, or in gentility.
The film takes place there, in the stately building at 5 Avenue Marceau, and opens with Catherine Deneuve being fitted for a suit. She stands there before the mirror, smoking one of those skinny "lady" cigarettes. She is pinned and re-pinned and fussed over, and assesses herself fairly critically in the mirror. All the while she is talking about how much she loves the hens she keeps at her country home and how pretty they look in the garden.
We then see him -- Monsieur -- sketching, and watch how each sketch is handed off to a different woman in the atelier and assigned a model. (I don't know quite what to call "them," because "seamstress" or "tailor" hardly seem the right words for what these extraordinary -- and yet very ordinary-looking women -- are capable of creating.) A toile is made, which is then modeled for Monsieur. He sits there in his studio, flanked by Loulou de la Falaise and and Anne-Marie Munoz.
Their loyalty, their silence, and their chic are formidable.
"Magnifique" he says, smiling. "Comme c'est beau." Always praise to start, always. Then the three of them make comments amongst themselves, very hush-hush-hush, and Monsieur gives further direction to the kind woman with fairy fingers -- gently, and in a soft voice -- and she bows and nods and says, "Merci, monsieur. Merci."
The toile is then made up in fabric. It is heaven to watch as the model emerges into the salon, reflected in the mirrors, and to see Monsieur clasp his hands together, breaking into a beatific smile, cooing "mais c'est un rêve!" ("But it's a dream!"). It's no wonder at all that the clothes are so beautiful. How could they be otherwise, considering that they develop in this cocoon of civility and gentleness. And friendship.
So I headed over to the 16th arrondissement today to thank Monsieur Saint Laurent for a gift he had given me. Not quite five years ago, I was invited to a black tie wedding. I chose to wear a black suit of mine, even though it was not a proper "smoking" (French for tuxedo). My suit, rather, was a non-pedigreed polyester thing, just another raving bargain in a string of many markdowns that I found on the sale rack at Bloomingdale's in Century City. The suit's primary virtue, apart from simplicity and the nice drape of the fabric, was that it fit. Perfectly. That's because after purchase, I had taken it the tailor to be re-worked, and so it both flattered and evaded accordingly.
I bought strappy red satin sandals and red chandelier earrings to go with. (I don't remember if there was a red mani-pedi as well, but surely there ought to have been. No matter.) No one would have mistaken my Kaspar Petites suit for couture, nor me for Betty Catroux, but still I felt beautiful walking up the steps of the Pacific Union Club on that Saturday night. I felt steady on my four-inch heels, my black beaded bag tucked under my arm, and my head held high.
High. That's important. Some women cannot bring themselves to go to a movie by themselves, let alone a wedding. It's not an easy thing to do. But I was made otherwise: I can go anywhere by myself. It's rarely easy -- I am always emboldened by the presence of others, but it is certainly something I can do. This wasn't the first time I have taken -- as the poet said -- "the road less traveled by." Nor the last.
But as far as weddings go, I prefer to go unescorted. I find it easier. Mingling on one's own is effortless. But even more, I wouldn't bring someone along to a wedding if I weren't fairly certain the two of us were going to be having a wedding of our own someday. That logic doesn't make sense to everyone, but it makes sense to me. And so, during my five stints as a bridesmaid, and at the however-many weddings I have attended over an adult lifetime, I have always done so as a free agent.
Admittedly, it can mess with the seating chart. It invites scrutiny in a way that bringing "a friend" -- or a trusty gay friend -- would not. But that's just not me. For better or for worse. This is who I am.
That night in San Francisco, I felt like something apart from the woman who had traveled those other roads-less-traveled-by. Not simply because I was wearing pants (even though most, if not all the other women, as it turned out, were in dresses). I felt beautiful and feminine and in full
possession of myself. Also in full possession of my choices, and more powerful for it. Perhaps not dressed in a Saint Laurent tuxedo, but dressed certainly in Saint Laurent's idea of a woman in a tuxedo.
He is often quoted as having said: "the most beautiful garment that could dress a woman are the arms of the man she loves. For those who have not had the good fortune of finding that happiness, I am here."
It's a pretty notion, but one I do not suggest scrutinizing too hard. It doesn't hold up. (Much like some of the things you see sailing down a designer's runway -- very pretty to look at, but wholly unsuited for a life that includes mundane activities like sitting down or walking down a flight of stairs). But yes, certainly he was there for me that night. And remains so, in a way -- namely that the idea of the woman in a tuxedo isn't so much about how it makes her look as how it makes her feel.
And that can make all the difference.