It was sometime late February 2012 – the fashion industry was scrabbling to cushion the heartbreak of Raf Simons’ departure from Jil Sander, where the sartorial visionary stamped his mark by astutely reviving the German fashion house with a dose of contemporary minimalism. The ambiguity of Stefano Pilati’s relationship with the higher echelons of Yves Saint Laurent was the subject of speculation of many – it was no surprise when the French house announced his exit and placed Hedi Slimane at the helm as Pilati’s subsequent successor. The final Fall/Winter ’12 showcase was structured with strength; in design and spirit - Anna Wintour stood to raise her acclaim for Pilati as he bowed for the last time as Yves Saint Laurent’s creative director, a rarity in the American editor’s book of gestures. But, it was more than the underlying grief muted by the wave of applause and critical accolades. It was the silence of the skeptics, the weight of succeeding Tom Ford being shed off and the eight years of refined French sophistication that is ultimately central to the house of Yves Saint Laurent.
The introduction of Hedi Slimane as Pilati’s successor – at its embryonic stage – sparked verbal altercations between Slimane’s cult followers and well, everybody else. Riding on the success of the ‘skinny suit’ and championing Dior Homme, ‘edginess’ and rock-and-roll was the linchpin of Slimane’s design principles – but the question brewing on everyone’s lips was, how would he accommodate his trademark grunge, epicene signature into Yves Saint Laurent, a house famed for ‘Le Smoking’ suits and sophisticated glamour? No question, I was inevitably on the bandwagon where the cynics habituated; Stefano Pilati to Yves Saint Laurent, to me, was like Riccardo Tisci to Givenchy – sure, a marriage without its rocky parts is unheard of but at their best, they were empyreal; untouchable (the way Raf is to Dior, currently). Hedi Slimane’s Dior Homme was revolutionary, undoubtedly; but as a womenswear designer, the achingly-hip and ruling monarch of the 21st century rock-and-roll culture paled in comparison on paper.
An excerpt from New York Times:
“Mr. Slimane coveted the job at Saint Laurent, and, according to those familiar with the negotiations, he encouraged rumors that he would eventually replace Mr. Pilati. Those reports haunted Mr. Pilati for years. Mr. Bergé also became more vocal about his displeasure with its direction after the death of Mr. Saint Laurent in 2008. Mr. Bergé said he never actively campaigned for Mr. Slimane, but when Mr. Pinault finally told him he was giving the job to Mr. Slimane, he was, of course, ‘very, very happy.’”
Hedi Slimane did little to comfort the pessimists. The industry is ever familiar with Slimane’s narcissistic, diva-esque (trust me, it pains to resort to such a word) conducts, such as limiting seats to significant guests – design-wise, liberty was a concept Slimane appreciated and, well; liberty he wanted, liberty he was gifted (Pierre Bergé’s a Slimane fan). The apparent deconstruction of Yves Saint Laurent began with Slimane’s executive decision of dropping the ‘Yves’ from the fashion house’s name – to ‘Saint Laurent Paris’ – an uproar ensued, naturally, as rebellion and Hedi Slimane was indivisible. It was a nod to the ‘60s Saint Laurent Rive Gauche and Pierre Bergé’s backing of Slimane meant one thing: there was no turning back. It was only the beginning of a labyrinth of backlash and common vexation. The house of Saint Laurent was to be moved from Paris to downtown Los Angeles, resonating with Slimane’s ceaseless intrigue with the young and the ‘cool’ – it was upsetting to say the least, as to some it seemed as if he was stripping the quintessential Yves Saint Laurent spirit of the brand; an unnecessary overhaul. To some, it marked disrespect – the name and Parisian headquarters are closely tied to the heritage left behind. For the firm believers and fashion optimists, the uprooting of Saint Laurent came with the ‘Hedi Slimane’ package. A conducive environment brews success, and it seemed for a second, the whole shebang was justified on the grounds that it was what it would take to make Saint Laurent completely “Hedi” (and all for a designer, foreign to the womenswear waters.) A lover of disobedience myself, I detested the idea of Hedi Slimane (developing a legitimate headache from rolling my eyes too hard – that’s detest, yes?) but it was diluted by a surge of anticipation – is he setting us up for a spectacle? Could ‘Saint Laurent Paris’ adorn the hip, 20-somethings of the modern day, clutching on to the foolproof mixture of sleekness, sophistication and nonchalance?
The stance of ‘Saint Laurent Paris’ was reiterated with Slimane’s Fall/Winter 2013 in such an unapologetic manner – it was a youthful rebranding, in what may seem like an abuse of creative liberty. Hanne Gaby opened, and at first glance she seemed like she’s mastered the art of model off-duty dressing (note: her personal style in actuality is charmingly whimsical) – decked in a gleaming skater dress under a disheveled plaid cardigan, perfected with polka-dotted tights and biker boots. The show continuously echoed the modern grunge ideologies; plaid tops, baby-doll dresses and skimpy leather offerings. Sifting through the high-resolution images; it was a regurgitation of the mass-produced grungy model off-duty styles readily available on the shelves and racks of Topshop, Zara and All Saints. No sense of nostalgia could be excavated out of the showcase where the traditional Yves Saint Laurent girl seemed as if she was a regular at London’s Beyond Retro, digging for vintage gems to be styled in the ways Lookbook.nu would teach you. Granted, the deftly crafted leather jackets and one-off pieces resonate with Slimane’s principles and tailoring abilities – but the wonders were minimal and the clothes were bereft of any sense of ingenuity. In respect of Slimane’s clearly palpable spirit to bring the Saint Laurent girl to the future, the showcase was his interpretation of a 21st century free-spirited youth; but unfortunately, the only pubescent aspect was his delivery.
For one who’s admittedly a Stefano Pilati fan – it was a lump to digest in the sense where I am closely attached to the sentiments of Yves Saint Laurent; the Paris-based fashion house with genuine substance, an unmistakable identity and polished glamour. Hedi Slimane’s opinion of the ‘Saint Laurent’ girl (or, woman – but it seems to be a ‘girl’ under Hedi) deviates from the highbrow atmosphere circulating ‘Yves Saint Laurent’. The faces of ‘Saint Laurent Paris’ print for the season include Courtney Love, Marilyn Manson and more recently, high-fashion darling Cara Delevingne paired with Z. Cole Smith – all in monochromatic, true Slimane style. On the accessories department – the classic Yves Saint Laurent bags are, thankfully, here to stay. The proclaimed ‘it-bag’, the Saint Laurent Paris’ duffel bag to me, is a constant reminder of Slimane’s (current) lack of imagination coupled with its vapid commercialization. With fashion houses like Dior, Givenchy, Prada, Louis Vuitton and Jil Sander (and maybe, Chanel) – where does Hedi Slimane stand against fashion front-runners such as Raf Simons, Riccardo Tisci, Miuccia Prada and Marc Jacobs?
Source: The New York Times, The Guardian, Style.com, Women’s Wear Daily, The Fashion Spot, Fashionologie, Huffington Post Style, Vogue.com, Business of Fashion, Fashionising.