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Hedi Slimane Returning to Yves Saint Laurent

WWD has learned the French fashion house will reveal today that the men's wear superstar is its new creative director.

Hedi Slimane

PARIS — Get ready for more Hedi times at Yves Saint Laurent.

The storied French fashion house will reveal today that men’s wear superstar Hedi Slimane is its new creative director — a dozen years after he exited YSL Rive Gauche Pour Homme to heat up Dior Homme.

He is to assume “total creative responsibility for the brand image and all its collections,” while continuing to pursue his career in photography, WWD has learned.

WWD.com reported on Feb. 25 that Slimane was poised to nab the YSL designer post, succeeding Stefano Pilati, who enjoyed a fruitful, if turbulent, eight-year tenure.

“As one of the most important French fashion houses, Yves Saint Laurent today possesses formidable potential, which I am confident will be successfully harnessed and revealed through the vision of Hedi Slimane,” stated François-Henri Pinault, chairman and chief executive officer of YSL parent PPR.

Slimane’s “exceptional talent and understanding of the spirit of Yves Saint Laurent heralds a promising new chapter in the history of the maison,” echoed YSL ceo Paul Deneve.

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Pilati received a standing ovation for his swan song collection on Monday, and exits the house at the end of his latest contract.

It is understood Slimane will show his first new designs for YSL in June for resort. The format of that presentation could not immediately be learned.

Although Slimane did limited quantities of small sizes at Dior Homme, dressing such famous women as Nicole Kidman, Charlotte Rampling and Madonna, he has never done a women’s collection. Still, he enjoyed an enthusiastic following across the fashion and cultural spectrums, his notoriety fueled in part by Karl Lagerfeld, who famously shed more than 60 pounds to shimmy into Slimane’s stick-to-the-ribs suits. Rock stars from Mick Jagger to Pete Doherty have belted out songs decked out in his designs.

Slimane’s return to the fashion spotlight — and foray into women’s wear — is sure to generate a level of excitement among press and retailers to rival the buzz that surrounded Phoebe Philo’s comeback at Celine in 2009 after a three-year sabbatical. Given Slimane’s status as a men’s wear innovator, he is bound to electrify that market, too — and perhaps create anxiety among some of his designer colleagues in men’s.

The appointment signals that YSL parent PPR — which bills itself as a specialist in multiplying the scale of small- to midsize brands — wants to ramp up development at YSL, which trails industry peers such as Chanel and Christian Dior.

It’s a bold move for PPR and Pinault, who last year took on direct oversight of the group’s four largest luxury properties: Gucci, Bottega Veneta, YSL and Balenciaga.

In recent years, the French group frequently found internal solutions to creative succession, promoting design underling Frida Giannini to succeed Tom Ford at Gucci in 2006, and Sarah Burton to take over Alexander McQueen in the wake of the founder’s suicide in 2010.

Since exiting as Dior Homme’s creative director in 2007, Slimane has moved to Los Angeles and devoted himself to photography, even as his skinny tailoring and low-slung jeans continued to have resonance in the men’s market. His art photos and sculptures carry four- and five-figure price tags in galleries including Almine Rech in Paris and Brussels. He has also done commercial photography for Prada, and editorial work for French Vogue, V and Another Man magazines.

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Yet he has often hinted he would return to design.

“I had enough time to define my style precisely,” he said in an interview last year with WWD’s magazine Menswear. “It would have been different if I had left fashion before having defined it. I also never intended to give up on design, but to take a necessary and healthy distance.…I do still love design, and somehow have protected my passion for it.”

An art history graduate from the Ecole du Louvre, Slimane emerged from fashion’s shadows during his first stint at YSL. Hired as an assistant in fashion marketing at YSL in 1997 and then quickly promoted to designer, Slimane successfully revved up the label’s Rive Gauche Homme collection with sleek, androgynous tailoring: leather trenchcoats, pinch-waist suits and plunging shirts. He was a pioneer in inviting contemporary artists like Ugo Rondinone to put works in YSL stores, positing his clothes in a broader cultural context.

Slimane resigned from YSL in 2000 to pursue exclusive negotiations with its parent, then known as Gucci Group, for the launch of his own label. He ended up signing on with luxury rival Dior, embarking on an ambitious project that electrified men’s wear with his glitzy fashion shows and minimalist boutiques.

According to sources, Slimane maintained strong relations with Bernard Arnault, chairman and ceo of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton. Before he parted ways with Dior Homme in 2007, he had been in talks to have Dior back a Hedi Slimane fashion house, long a dream of the designer, who was keen to branch out into women’s wear and other lifestyle categories, such as home furnishings.

More recently, Slimane figured among candidates considered to succeed disgraced designer John Galliano as Dior’s next couturier. Among the sticking points was Slimane’s insistence on overhauling Dior’s extensive network of global boutiques, done up in sumptuous fashion by American architect Peter Marino, sources said.

YSL ended last year with 83 stores. At its results presentation last month, PPR said it would open an additional 15 in 2012.

It could not be learned if YSL plans to give Slimane the resources to overhaul the entire store network. Some locations retain the underlit, mostly black design concept from Ford’s tenure, while newer boutiques reflect versions of the “Opium experience” decor introduced by Pilati in 2008.

To be sure, Slimane’s return to YSL is bound to be applauded by the old-guard YSL crowd, particularly by Pierre Bergé, who had given the cold shoulder to Pilati throughout his tenure. The French are also likely to hail the return of one of its own sons to the design helm, given their emotional attraction to the founder, whose designs closely echoed social evolutions.

In Parisian fashion circles, there’s a strong conviction that Slimane “understands YSL better than anyone else,” said one industry source.

Slimane, 43, steps into a healthy business with strong product pillars — and one that market sources estimate is roughly five times larger than what he oversaw at Dior Homme.

While reporting 2011 results, Pinault lauded YSL’s “giant step” forward in terms of profitability.

Full-year sales at YSL advanced 31.4 percent last year to 353.7 million euros, or $493.2 million, while operating income grew more than fourfold to 40.9 million euros, or $57 million. Dollar figures are converted from euros at average exchange rates for the periods in question.

Sources suggested YSL would seek to intensify its rtw business, banking on Slimane’s keen instincts and tailoring prowess to bring a jolt of modernity and runway buzz.

While Pilati received uneven reviews for his rtw, he turned out a string of hit handbags and shoes and helped make YSL a go-to resource for accessories. Last year leather goods accounted for 35 percent of revenues, footwear 25 percent, apparel 24 percent and accessories and royalties 16 percent.

While Philo did a clean sweep of the product range at Celine, it could be a costly maneuver for YSL to discard such star products from the Pilati era as the Tribute shoe, a platform sandal that continues to sell briskly five years after its introduction. Trib Too shoes, frequently worn by Pinault’s wife, the actress Salma Hayek, and Muse and Muse Two handbags are also considered key engines of the business.

Slimane’s challenge will be to entice a new clientele to YSL while holding onto some of the clientele that helped the company climb out of the red.

Known for his exacting standards, Slimane could also face challenges interfacing with YSL’s beauty licensee L’Oréal, which acquired the business in 2008. Today, YSL Perfumes and Beauty is run out of the French beauty giant’s Luxury division, which includes designer brands such as Giorgio Armani Parfums and Cosmetics, Ralph Lauren Fragrances, Maison Martin Margiela and Stella McCartney.

Fashion designers have exerted little control over the creation of beauty products for YSL in recent history. The colors for its last lip-related line, Vernis à Lèvres, for instance, were created by YSL’s creative director for makeup, Lloyd Simmonds.

At Dior, which controls its beauty business, Slimane was also given purview over men’s fragrances.

Slimane is sure to take a hands-on approach building the fashion image of YSL and, like Lagerfeld does at Chanel, shoot all the campaigns himself.