April 27, 2024

Together, they’re hypocrites and hedonists and helplessly indulgent to their cores.

It’s 1967 in Paris. The streets are wet with rain, and the clubs are full with eager bodies seeking release. One body in particular crosses the street onto Boulevard Montparnasse and into Chez Régine, his eyes half-obscured by thick-rimmed black glasses.

This place is like his home. Other men like him gather here, where they can swipe stolen kisses between one another in secret corners reeking of dry gin and saccharine cologne. The whole of Paris knows that the elite come to rub noses here, at the gay bar for the stars, and so they don their finest frocks for the once-in-a-lifetime chance to make it big.

Yves, brooding and quiet, catches the eye of a blonde from across the room and can’t shake it. Amongst the shining, sweaty crowd, she manages to seem utterly untouched by all of the madness. She’s no star, but she has what everyone there was chasing after. The plumes of cigarette smoke swirling from her painted-red lips fail to obscure a certainty about her sexuality that made him stop in his tracks. Her lips curl into a playful smirk as she averts her eyes, refusing to meet his piercing stare — and so the two of them begin their dangerous dance.

He is complimentary in his initial approach, lauding the woman for her striking resemblance to him — tall, thin, utterly unapproachable. He’d always been a narcissist in that way.

The attraction is all at once physical, spiritual, and mental. Their introductions are brief, and words are useless over the senseless rhythm pouring into their eardrums. He knows what to call it then, and doesn’t bother to mince words — he’s never been one to do so.

Love at first sight.

Of course, their lips will never touch. But his hands will know her body in a way I can only dream of. He thinks in terms of her, of her figure. His touch is like Midas, and he’s a fastidious, mercurial king — eager for his muse to turn to gold beneath his fingers. Together, they’re hypocrites and hedonists and helplessly indulgent to their cores.

And, certainly, you know his name. It’s one you’d be remiss to forget. It demands to be said with the whole of your mouth, from tongue to lips to cheeks. It colonizes the whole of you.

Yves Saint Laurent.

Yves has this feminine ideal preconceived from his earliest days, spent hunched over etchings of ballgowns billowing from graphite-hewn female silhouettes. Though he was teased to no end by his schoolmates — his hair was parted too neatly, his stature too ungainly and awkward — he sought comfort in the gowns he designed for his mother and sister. He had the eye of a designer since the age of five — all he had ever needed was a willing canvas.

His mind is utterly possessed by the curve of Betty’s hips, the way that her shoulders jut out broadly, forming his androgynous "feminine ideal." Rolls of draping fabrics bought in bulk — silk, mink, fox — fly from his lithe fingertips to her sinewy form. He sticks a pin right above her waist, pinching where the fabric would cinch her best and peering above his tortoiseshell glasses with that knowing look in his eyes. And she’ll stand there, lit cigarette in hand and a pout on her lips.

As for her, Betty Catroux, once called Betty Saint, she very may well have been nobody without him. She was the illegitimate daughter of and a French model. She knew what she wanted. More importantly, she knew how to get it.

She doesn’t particularly care about fashion — that’s not what inspires her. It’s Yves, and it’s the way that he looks at her. She does what she wants, and what strikes her as desirable in the moment. She wears it because she’s bored, or because Yves recommends it, or, many times, because she’s drunk. In that way, she is Yves’ polar opposite, balancing out his meticulous attention to detail.

With Yves, Betty feels like she is living in a fairy tale. She shares champagne with supermodels and celebrities whose names she could have only dreamed of knowing before, and spends summers and vacations with Yves in their very own Garden of Eden, indulging without regard for tomorrow. She has a lover — a husband whom she married soon after meeting Yves. Though she’ll carry on her husband’s last name, everything is electric with Yves. He looks without taking, touches without claiming, loves without lusting. He worships her like she’s his Virgin Mary, and she can’t help but devour the hyperdulia.

The feeling is mutual. Yves is inspired like he’s never been before — he releases collection after collection, designed perfectly for none other than her. For Betty. Le smoking — YSL’s rendition of the men’s tuxedo jacket — is the perfect accessory for such a muse. She always styles the jacket as a second skin, mostly unbuttoned with nothing underneath, as if she wants Yves’ creations to be as close to her body as physically possible.

When they’re forced apart by land or sea, or their respective partners and families, they write each other letters, as if every moment apart physically pains them. He calls her ma Pulu, a nonsensical nickname he created just for her as part of a language known by only the two of them. He promises to write back at the end of each declaration by signing avec mon grand amour — with my great love.

By day, they lounge together on yachts, enjoying the pristine sunshine kissing the tips of their noses, so carelessly emulating the social class of people they once claimed to hate. And by night, they dance their hearts away, sacrificing their souls in religious devotion on the dancefloor to one another — always close enough to raise questions, never quite close enough to answer them. They sneak into dimly lit back rooms together and dust bits of white powder off of shiny gold spoons into their noses.

She whisks glass after glass of tepid champagne into her mouth, complaining of the morbidly decadent hors d'oeuvres that she must force down to stay conscious. She hates food. She only eats so she can drink. Following long nights, they often end up in the hospital — together — in terrible condition.

They wake up with the light in their eyes — maybe the sun shining above is Paris, maybe it’s Milan, or maybe this time it’s New York City. They can never keep track. But with his shiny new plaything around, he’s off jet-setting without a care in the world. Betty and Yves are photographed in Japan, New York, then Paris. In some photos, he’ll drape his arms around her shoulder lazily in a comfortable display of affection. They’re seen together in embraces, arms wrapped around each other, always close, always touching — never kissing, always teasing at it.

He misses phone calls from Bergé begging him to get his shit together, and when he does answer, his words are slurred. The days bleed into the nights that drip into early in-between times spent shielded by a group of intimate wannabes who sought his approval more than they cared for his wellbeing.

Berge and Yves fight like brothers and don’t love like lovers any more. When their shared home is left half-empty, Yves isn’t surprised — only filled with a dull, throbbing hunger. His appetite becomes more insatiable, unbearable than ever, with the Pierre-shaped hole left behind. As much as she would like to, Betty can’t fill it, even in her clothes especially designed by Yves for her. So she does what she can — she doubles him. She pours him a double shot of whiskey, on the rocks. Their noses go red together in back rooms, and they ache for times where they once fell alive.

Yves Saint Laurent.

His name is written in the stars now, etched in gold on his two front-row seats at Paris Fashion Week — one reserved for him, one Betty. Days and nights go on, women and men come and go, but Betty always remains. Though Yves had always tended towards the melancholic, falling into depression like one falls in love, with Betty, his equal, his feminine double, all he can see is her.

In 2008, Yves loses a long battle with brain cancer. Though they are estranged, his business partner and ex-lover, Pierre Bergé, is the one to break the news. The announcement given to the press is brief, and offers little in the way of explanation. In the following months, publication after publication posts their take on the life of the infamous Yves Saint Laurent — his life, his legacy, his brand. His name lives on eternally, etched in gold on his tombstone.

Betty now spends her days doing very much of nothing, as had been her dream for some time. She still speaks with Yves each night, toasting to his framed portrait with a glass of her finest champagne. It’s as if nothing has changed. She knows that’s what he would have wanted. So, in her posh apartment on the Upper East Side, she dons her favorite le smoking, taking special care to wear nothing underneath — she wants to be as close to Yves as possible, even in death.

Taking a seat on her chaise lounge, she holds her champagne flute by its golden rim, and toasts to a framed photograph, grinning at the framed photograph of her masculine double — Yves.

Yves Saint Laurent.

“Bonne nuit, ma Pulu.”

Layout: Binny Bae
Photographer: Mateo Ontiveros
Stylists: Elsa Zhang & Lili Bien
Set Stylists: Mateo Ontiveros & Angelo Corridori
HMUA: Emely Romo & Meryl Jiang
Nail Artist: Anoushka Sharma
Models: Meryl Jiang, Andres Menendez & Victoria Hale

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