the Insiders


June 11, 2008 3:35 AM

Eye, Fashion

Covering the Saint Laurent Story

/*photo styles */ .photo-left { width:200px; float:left; margin:4px; } .photo-right { width:200px; float:right; margin:4px; } .caption { font-size:10px;padding:2px; color:#999999; } It has been said by many, but the death of Yves Saint Laurent from brain cancer last week in...

It has been said by many, but the death of Yves Saint Laurent from brain cancer last week in Paris at 71 marked the end of the grand era of French couture. That sentiment permeated the solemn - and beautiful - funeral mass Thursday for the great couturier at the 16th-century Eglise Saint-Roch. The service was attended by some 800 mourners, including French president Nicolas Sarkozy and his wife, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, and designers from Valentino and Hubert de Givenchy to Alber Elbaz, Christian Lacroix, Marc Jacobs and John Galliano.

Yves Saint Laurent's coffin exits.
photo by Dominique Maitre and Stephane Feugere
Catherine Deneuve was close to Saint Laurent for many years and was a regular at all of the parties he threw recently - at the foundation he opened with his lover and business partner of 50 years, Pierre Berge. Deneuve read a touching poem by Walt Whitman that mused on the importance of the spirit and finding transcendence in each moment of life. I wish I could find the name of that poem. When I asked Deneuve, who was very emotive, she said she didn't remember.

Berge's speech was a testament of his love for Saint Laurent. "How beautiful and eager was the Paris morning on which we met," he began, his voice cracking with emotion. He ended with this: "As I leave you, Yves, I want to tell you my admiration, my profound respect and my love."

I saw Berge the day before the funeral mass. He was listening to the recording of Maria Callas singing "Casta Diva," one of Saint Laurent's fetish songs, which would be played during the ceremony. I could see he hadn't slept and that he was completely decimated by Saint Laurent's passing, which moved me considerably. I embraced him. Neither of us said a word.

I had interviewed Saint Laurent several times. What struck me most, even when it became evident that his health was failing, was his presence of mind. His manner of expression was always incisive, never glib. Yet it was also clear that he no longer belonged to this world, a world in which fashion has become more interested in feeding the media frenzy than in the perfect construction of a dress. Saint Laurent's era ended long before he retired in 2002, a fact he realized all too well and for which he told me he suffered. But what Saint Laurent gave to fashion - his inimitable style, his chic, his deep love and respect for women - will be remembered for a long time to come.
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