This book has long been overdue a lengthly review as I finished it about three months ago but as with all my essays, I'm ever the procrastinator and I wanted to gather my thoughts about it in a vaguely articulate manner. Please excuse the review if you have already read it and loved it as I suspect you may have and sorry if my rambling bores on a bit.
The Beautiful Fall charts the rise and subsequent rivalry between Yves Saint Laurent and Karl Lagerfeld in 1970's Paris - the parties, the quest for beauty, the cocoon-like world of fashion and the consequent fall and demise in the 1980's. I thought it was rather topical to review it now as Alicia Drake, a British fashion journalist and author of this book is facing a lawsuit. Lagerfeld has taken Drake to court, accusing the book of invasion of privacy and the Palais de Justince will reach a verdict on January 15th. Bookstores in France have already voluntarily withdrawn the book for sale (not trusty Amazon though so please nab it before it gets completely blacklisted!).
In my opinion, another good reason why this book has incited Lagerfeld is the poor light the book casts on him in comparisom to Yves Saint Laurent. It seems the conclusion of the book is to say that Laurent created beauty and Lagerfeld tried in vain but could never reach those creative heights. Though I respect the work of the Kaiser, I have always, and this is prior to the book, thought he used Chanel and its heritage to his maximum advantage and by reinventing and moving along with the waves of fashion, he has thus achieved a great deal of success.
The book glorifies Yves Saint Laurent in the most alluring way, as a potently magnetic creative force. If Drake was trying to write a balanced portrayal of both designers, then she failed because I found myself savouring every description, anecdote and mention of Yves Saint Laurent. His collections, his circle of friends, his manner and his whole persona all had me hooked and intrigued.
Like the ground breaking 1968 collection based on a trouser suit. The way he could 'render beauty with his charm and attention', his sensuality, the 'regard de Saint Laurent'. The fact that he reduced fashion editors to tears due to his 'ability to touch people and arouse emotion through clothes.' Even his weaknesses and inner turmoil were attractive and compelling to read about. Everything was quite simply spellbinding.
In stark comparisom, Lagerfeld suffers from being portrayed as rather a shifty character. Someone who has shady insecurities in himself by shrouding his background. He seemed to lavish attention on his 'friends' to keep them in his circle. He befriended hip and happening people like the Americans, Antonio Lopez, the illustrator and Juan Ramos, an art director only to feed off their talent. Lagerfeld's wealth was his means of indulging on his friends' fantasies and allowing him to reap the benefits. Reading about their friendship circle, I can only liken it to something out of primary school where Karl is the odd one out in the group who everyone else pokes fun at. It was very hard to be in awe of someone like that when, at the same time Yves Saint Laurent's clan revelled in the company of him like he was the sun.
It was also delightful reading about the YSL muses like Betty Catroux and Loulou de la Falaise. The way they inspired Laurent and coaxed the flow of ideas out off him. Loulou de la Falaise described Yves hitting 'his moments of perfection' and you really can't help but want to bask in his sun too.
The rivalry between Laurent and Lagerfeld on the fashion podium was also imbalanced. Whilst Lagerfeld raised the importance of ready to wear in a big way with his work at Chloe and was dilligent in his work, designing as many as fifteen collections at the same time, it seemed to me his talent lay in going with the times and reading into what would do well commercially. That is not to diminish this talent but Laurent made women swoon. His clothes, or at least the way Drake has described them seemed to SING to women, reach heights of beauty that I can't even seem to imagine today, even in a much expanded fashion world.
The problems in both designers though at a similar level, made me feel pity for Lagerfled and a empathetic compassion for Laurent. His low points were heartbreaking to read about and it is almost fitting that the man that brought him to his lowest point was not Lagerfeld himself but a man that Lagerfeld had nurtured and indtroduced into their fashion circles. This man, Jacques de Bascher, a focal figure in the book that casts a sinister dark shadow over the YSL clan but also illustrates the title of the book well. Therefore it is no wonder that Lagerfeld is taking Drake to court. No matter how you read it, Lagerfeld is is on more than one occasion made to look like the lesser figure.
If a lot of the book is based on indepth research and fact as Drake claims, then I applaud her for such insightful material despite not being able to incorporate interviews from the horse's mouth (Laurent and Lagerfeld did not contribute interviews). If the book is party over-embellishment, to me as a reader, it matters not a bit as she has written a dream of a world, a 1970's fashion bubble for me to escape into. I literally could not put it down and finished it in about a day. Afterwards, it made me analyse beauty and indulgence, especially. Jacques des Bascher, the embodiment of the title of the book said in an interview in 1975 with Andre Leon Talley, that cadent comes from the Latin word cadere, which means to fall. 'Decadent is something very different, it's the beautiful way to fall. It's a very slow movement which has lots of beauty. It can be kind of self-killing in a beautiful way, a tragic way.'