PARIS — Given a choice, Yves Saint Laurent designer Stefano Pilati says he would much rather see plenty of women walking around in his designs than erect some enormous brand temple.
"I strongly believe in being a dynamic brand, more than dreaming about a big building in Tokyo," he said in an interview here last week. "A brand like YSL should have this role."
That's the impetus behind Pilati's newest project: a permanent, season-less and sharply priced collection of YSL essentials dubbed "Edition 24" that helps fulfill the brand's promise of not only inciting desire, but serving women with a complete wardrobe for modern life.
The 50-style line of items mostly priced to retail under 1,000 euros, or $1,360 at current exchange, is slated for delivery next month to all 61 freestanding YSL boutiques worldwide and to select wholesale accounts. These include Neiman Marcus in the U.S., Harrods and Browns in London, Colette in Paris and Lane Crawford in Hong Kong.
The collection, which can be assembled into 24 looks, comprises all the elements a fashionable woman might need for an overnight trip, from oversize sweaters to a chiffon dress that can be rolled into a ball and tossed into a roller suitcase — also part of the line.
"Timeless" and "versatile" were the words Pilati used repeatedly to describe the range, which includes some of the most iconic styles of the founding couturier (patent trenchcoats, safari jackets, tuxedos), plus plenty from Pliati's three-year reign at the house, part of Italy's Gucci Group. There's even an item from the Tom Ford era — silk T-shirts — among Pilati's earliest output as women's design director. (He joined YSL from Prada Group in 2000 and succeeded Ford in 2004.)
"It's not a second line," Pilati stressed, describing Edition 24 instead as a way to "address fashion in a more accessible way.…It's about building a wardrobe; finding everything you need. And it's not necessarily linked to the direction of a season. Obviously, it will appeal to a broader clientele — and younger."
YSL president and chief executive Valerie Hermann noted the collection was more accessible not only in price, but in styles that are slightly less dressy and easy to mix and match. She noted the collection pieces, in white, black and safari shades, would be merchandised together in its boutiques, albeit without special signs or labeling."I think it will widen our audience in terms of customers, and positioning and price was key," she said. "It's more about comfortable, easy pieces [and] offering a nice price, but with the same level of quality and style. The entry price is 220 euros ($299.20) for a T-shirt, which is a good entry price for a luxury brand."
Hermann said YSL would announce the collection's arrival on its Web site, in direct marketing to its clients and in magazine editorial.
She noted Edition 24 styles were available for reorder, and that new capsules or items might be added before the next complete collection is readied in about nine months.
"From each collection, you learn something," Pilati said. "Let's see what the response is going to be."
To be sure, YSL aficionados will reencounter some familiar friends. Pilati said he "refreshed" such recent best-selling YSL items as tunics, oversize sweaters and tulip skirts. Other styles are from scratch, including a jumpsuit and a knitted fur-cashmere vest.
The collection includes plenty of practical accessories for travel, including leopard-print ballerina flats that roll up into a pouch and a passport-document holder from the luggage set that can do double duty as a clutch bag. The clothing, from swimsuits to a cashmere wrap, can be worn for all kinds of occasions and weather.
"A lot of the looks are actually perfect for now," Pilati said, pointing out the window to a glorious spring day in Paris, where temperatures are warm during the day, turning cool at night. "We're trying to be conscious of how the environment is changing," he said, hinting his next project could be to develop ecological fabrics that can be used for "more chic" and fashion-driven styles.
Pilati said democratizing fashion was in the spirit of the brand's avant-garde tradition, which he found extremely motivating.
"For all designers, it's frustrating to know you're speaking mostly to an elite group of people. You design a pair of pants, you want everyone in the world to wear them," he explained. "It's also chic to have a shirt you can buy for 250 euros [$338.15] in our shop, done by me, and combine it with a 2,500-euro [$3,381.81] jacket. Or buy three of the shirts, and you have several new outfits. It's cooler."Seated at his boomerang-shaped wooden desk by Charlotte Perriand, a gift from PPR boss François-Henri Pinault, Pilati spoke excitedly about the recent traction the brand has gained. In the first quarter of 2007, YSL sales rose 30.2 percent, to 55.2 million euros, or $73 million, bringing the company nearer its breakeven target.
Pilati was also heartened by wide critical and commercial praise for his fall-winter runway collection. He called it "the most Stefano collection, and the most YSL collection."
To be sure, Pilati's tenure at the house has had its challenges, marked by the need to reinvent the codes of the house and establish new ones, all the while ensuring his propositions are seductive. But he said he now felt freer to express the YSL spirit in diverse ways. "I am a devotee of this house," he said. "I don't need to show it in a conventional way."
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