Obsessions

Tales from the Arrowsmith Archives. 15 Minutes With Yves

The lens of Clive Arrowsmith has seen it all. He is a photographic legend and something of a fashion troubadour. We continue our journey into the Arrowsmith Archives with Clive’s recollection of the time we went to Paris with Liz Smith to photograph Yves Saint Laurent at his salon.

Words and Photography CLIVE ARROWSMITH

We were told by Pierre Bergé his partner who was in charge of YSL, that he might not have time for the portrait sitting just as we arrived.  The reception room was very sumptuous with rich red-wine velvet and gold chairs. I said to Liz “This is what I imagined a high-class Paris bordello would look like, but I never could afford to go to one. And besides the very idea scared me to death”. We both started laughing; our laughter was interrupted by the formidable figure of Pierre Bergé. Pierre looked at Liz, myself and my assistants with Napoleonic disdain as if to say who are these people?

Liz walked over and deferentially introduced herself trying to endear herself to him. Monsieur Bergé whispered something to her and took her into another room. My assistants and I waited bemused, I said to them “I don’t think this is going to happen he seems a bit up-tight with us to say the least” We all sat waiting in the luxurious silence of the temple of Yves Saint Laurent, trying to be reverent whilst suppressing the thought that this trip may be becoming a total fiasco.

After about 15mins Liz come back into the reception room, looked straight at me and leaned toward me and said in an urgent whispered tone “ We’ve only got fifteen minutes, they are going give us a room upstairs. You can’t say anything to Yves under any circumstances whatsoever, you will have to speak through Mr Bergé his interpreter”. I wondered how on earth I would direct Yves to be photographed the Pierre, as my French language skills were learned from Peter Sellers in the Pink Panther films, our day was not going well.

"The reception room was very sumptuous with rich red-wine velvet and gold chairs. I said to Liz “This is what I imagined a high-class Paris bordello would look like, but I never could afford to go to one. And besides the very idea scared me to death”. We both started laughing; our laughter was interrupted by the formidable figure of Pierre Bergé."

Once the assistants got into the room they set the lights up quickly and made sure the flash pack was syncing while I set up the camera. A large Louis XV chair was brought in by two enormous guys wearing YSL overalls.  We only had time to set up one light in front and one to illuminate the background. I told my assistant to sit in the chair and I gave him my glasses to see where the reflections of the light would fall, as I knew Yves signature look was black horn rimmed glasses. I was concerned that I may capture refections in them that would ruin the pictures.  By this time I was sweating like a farm animal with the stress as Yves glided into the room. I had only seen him from afar at the Paris collections and on television.  In person he was a strikingly elegant figure.  He had the look of a true Couturier. Yves was silent as he was directed by Monsieur Bergé to sit on the opulent red chair. Yves gestured to Bergé for a cigarette, who lit the cigarette with the sudden snap of his gold YSL lighter and Yves sank back into the chair.

I had taken light readings moments before, but now time was the enemy, I shot a couple of polaroid’s.  I would have liked to check them, but I had to carry on shooting because there was no time to do anything else.  I was using a Hasselblad camera with their new magazine that they had just given me, when I had got to twelve shots Bergé exclaimed  “A moment there is no film left in your camera Mr Arrowsmith” I replied ” Yes there is, this is a 24 shot magazine that Hasselblad has just brought out” He looked at me for a moment and then said ”Ah formidablé I must get one for my Hasselblad, such a wonderful camera. I am used to the 12 shot magazine, with mine”.  I continued to shoot, the polaroids where developing on a chair behind me but I hadn’t had a chance to look at them to confirm that the exposure was right. Mr Bergé said “Can we see” and with some trepidation I peeled back the polaroid to reveal, to my great relief a perfectly exposed image. “Oh wonderful; Mr Bergé said showing it to Yves, who calmly nodded his approval.

“Can I take a couple more rolls?” I asked attempting to extend my time. By this time time Loulou De La Falaise the muse of YSL appeared from behind me. Unbeknown to me she had been there all the time, “Oh Hello Loulou” I said, “How are you, long time no see. The Paris collections 1971 I think?” Seizing the moment I said,  “Can I take some shots of Loulou and Yves together?  “Fine” said Mr Bergé who seemed calmer now he knew, I knew what I wad doing. I was glad to have managed to extend the time by proving my competency and I finished the shoot just as Yves looked as if he was getting slightly tired of it all.  “One last shot” I said and that frame is the picture you see just above.


Beauty Papers Issue Seven available here