A real insider's look into the business of couture, the two new documentaries Yves Saint Laurent: His Life and Times and Yves Saint Laurent: 5, Avenue Marceau, 75116 Paris are among the best fashion films ever made. Focusing on the tortured genius who revolutionized style from the '60s with his Mondrian minis, ethnic/safari looks, tuxedos for women, Russian peasant luxuriousness, and brilliant palette and workmanship, David Teboul's films get as close as anyone to revealing the inner workings of the mind of a man who stands as one of the truly influential, world's eye-view-changing designers of the last century.

The sacrosanct, ultimately private doors of his salon are opened and a private fitting with Catherine Denueve gets things off to a suitably glamorous start; you are immediately made aware of the absolute rigor and eye for detail which obsess both the designer and actress, a longtime muse of his. Indeed, what comes through strongest here, in the lengthy footage of fittings, is the scientific precision, time and ardor, from top man down to the lowliest hand-beader, which can go into the creation of a gossamer piece of nothing to be worn by some millionairess to lunch.

At age three, Saint Laurent told his aunt that her dress and shoes did not match, and at the ridiculously young age of 19, he took over the house of Dior. In 1962, he and partner Pierre Berg opened their own fashion house, which they closed in a flurry of press and spectacular final dfil in 2002. The acidulous Berg is interviewed, as are longtime collaborator Loulou de la Falaise (rail-thin, the chicest woman alive), and the designer's mother, who is startlingly frank about his homosexuality and neuroticism.

This last is a large part of the Saint Laurent myth. For all of his staying power in the treacherous shoals of fashion, he has always been something of a fragile flower, stemming from a disastrous youthful military stint with the French army. In the '70s and '80s, shocking stories abounded of breakdowns, both public and private. The lean sex symbol of that controversial nude perfume ad he posed for in the '70s has become a shockingly overweight dodderer who seems barely able to maneuver himself around his studio. However, there is no doubt who is in charge: His eye remains as sharp and editorial as ever, as he sends assistants scurrying for fresh bolts of fabric and has the workroom muttering about the demands he places upon them. If Saint Laurent, who himself confesses to being a rather sad and lonely man, has paid a severe price for success, the results have nonetheless enriched all of our lives.

--David Noh