On the Town with Shinan: 'Yves Saint Laurent' and a long night with Robin Williams

By Shinan Govani

Who hates who, and who cannot be seated beside whom.

Some things apparently never change, as evidenced by the too-tiny whiff we get in that new hanger-ready film, Yves Saint Laurent, directed by Jalil Lespert. During a special screening of the biopic, held here in Toronto the other night, some of the fashion flockers in the auditorium guffawed audibly when, at one point, a flack in a scene is heard saying, right before a YSL show, “Don't put Elizabeth Arden beside Helena Rubinstein. Enemies!”

Now, that's a movie I would have preferred to watch. The two lipstick queens – women who started with zip and created what are now beauty empires, a hundred or so years ago – loathed each other. And, as I recall reading once, were both Capricorns! Helena, an immigrant from Poland, and Arden, the daughter of a Canadian truck driver who grew up in rural Ontario, were so competitive with each other, that Helena even hired away Elizabeth's ex-husband to procure some competitor secrets.

Theirs was the kind of archness that the YSL film could have used, perhaps. Though the promise is there – Yves was fashion's golden boy, designing for Dior at 19, and officially head of the house by 21 – the movie settles into broad strokes to go with the revolutionary frocks, and the psychology is mainly pop. And while the fashion show scenes were stirring with their access to the original archives, it all clings too much to a familiar tortured-artist narrative. Depression. Addiction to drink and drugs. The pressure of producing so many collections a year, after such early success. His complicated relationship with his partner, Pierre Berge. It's all there, but they seem like bullet-points.

One thing's for certain, though: most at the screening seemed to think that the star of the film, Pierre Ninney, pulled it off. A dead-ringer for the Algerian-born couturier, but also quite a canny actor. One to watch! The screening, by the way, was hosted by L'Oreal and Yves Saint Laurent Beauty, and was preceded by a small, sky-skimming reception at Panorama, on the 51st floor of the Manulife Centre, where movie-worthy snacks were on hand. Because nothing goes better with a 70s-era Mondrian shift dress than, apparently, a black-bean empanada!

What is there left to be said about the passing of Robin Williams this week? His giddy joy and rocket-fuel humour obscuring a kind of palpable sadness? I thought A.O. Scott, in the New York Times, made a particularly interesting point when he wrote, “I've always felt that Robin's blinding speed and flash of wit was an effort at concealment, rather than revealing.” I also couldn't help but think about a particularly crazy night I had with the comic genius some years ago, when he was working in Toronto. It was around late December when we began our night at Opus, that mainstay on Prince Arthur, moving along to Dora Keogh's on the Danforth (where there was a big bash on) and ending up at a slew of other Christmas parties.

The most prevailing memory? Being in a cab with him and another friend, with the windows frosting up, and the local radio station affixed to a steady stream of Christmas carols. Soon enough, we were all in a sing-song of 'Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer' with Mrs. Doubtfire. Even the cab driver joined in!

'Here's a man with demons.' That's what I remember being my take-away after that night, however. He was obviously a sad clown.

Adding to the accompanying absurdity, though? Robin forgot his coat at one of the places we'd been, so we ended up back-tracked. Finally, I dropped him off at the Windsor Arms, where he always stayed, and where he had been the first celebrity guest, in fact, in 1999, when the storied hotel re-opened.

I never saw Robin again.

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