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Stefano Pilati Inks Deal to Stay at YSL

Stefano Pilati is staying put at Yves Saint Laurent, WWD has learned.

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PARIS — Stefano Pilati is staying put at Yves Saint Laurent, WWD has learned.

The Italian-born designer, who in 2004 succeeded Tom Ford at the helm of one of fashion’s most storied brands, has signed a new multiyear contract with YSL parent Gucci Group. YSL confirmed in a brief statement that Pilati would continue as its creative director, responsible for all product categories and also the image of the brand. YSL and Pilati both declined further comment.

Still, Pilati’s contract renewal should squelch persistent speculation in recent months that he might be headed to a competing brand — or be replaced at YSL by former Dior Homme designer Hedi Slimane.

According to sources, Valentino had courted Pilati as a possible successor to the Roman couturier, but the YSL designer rebuffed advances. As for Slimane, sources said there has been no contact between YSL executives and the men’s wear star, who cemented his reputation at YSL before Gucci Group put Ford in the designer’s seat in 2000. Since exiting Dior Homme earlier this year, Slimane has focused on art projects and editorial photography.

Pilati, 42, was handpicked by Ford in 2000 as women’s design director at YSL. Before that, Pilati worked in senior design and fabric development positions for a number of Italian fashion houses, including Miu Miu, Prada and Giorgio Armani.

Pilati received mixed reviews for his bulbous-and-belted solo debut for YSL in 2004, but his designs have proven influential and he has since won many fans in the press and retail communities. Critics and buyers hailed his fall-winter 2007 collection as his best ever for the house.

Retailers have also recently lauded YSL for a consistent string of hit shoes and bags, including the popular Muse, Downtown and Tribute styles. In 2005, YSL recruited an accessories designer from Louis Vuitton, Raphaelle Hanley, to beef up the lucrative category.

Still, Pilati and Valerie Hermann, YSL’s president and chief executive officer, face the daunting task of steering the fashion house into profitable territory. The company was driven deeply into the red after a radical attempt by previous management to engineer a Gucci-esque rejuvenation.

In the first half of 2007, YSL narrowed its losses to 26 million euros, or $34.6 million, from 35 million euros, or $43 million, a year ago. Gucci Group, owned by PPR, has yet to set a target date for the brand to reach breakeven, but has repeatedly stated that it is likely to occur when revenues reach about 300 million to 350 million euros, or approximately $420 million to $490 million.

Sales in the first half totaled 101 million euros, or $140.2 million, up from 85 million euros, or $118 million, in the year-ago period.

Pilati and Hermann have funneled energy into establishing YSL as a purveyor of a complete wardrobe for modern life. Earlier this year, they unveiled a sharply priced collection of YSL essentials, dubbed Edition 24, designed to reach a broader and younger customer base.

Also in that vein, YSL has been handing out an advertising vehicle in newspaper form during New York and London fashion weeks, and at Paris subway stations, to get its fashion message to the street. A total of two million copies of this “Manifesto” will be distributed this month, including in Milan during the Italian collections next week.

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