Some of us will never know what it’s like to be preceded by a reputation for utter cool. God, it must be great to have done whatever it was you did that got you to earn that status, and to have been duly recognized for such. But (in the cry-me-a-river category) it must also carry a downside: the constant pressure to live up to advance billing.
Hedi Slimane’s much-anticipated debut at Saint Laurent had all the markings of a cool fest: first, the migration of his design studio to L.A.; the tweaking of house name and logo, and then, in the lead-up to his show on Monday night, the endless chirping about whom would sit where, which editors-in-chief had been scuttled to the second row and on and on. At the show, designers including Alber Elbaz, Marc Jacobs, Riccardo Tisci and Vivienne Westwood turned out to lend support while Old Guard YSL loyalists Pierre Bergé and Betty Catroux sat across the runway from the likes of Kate Moss and Jessica Chastain. This occurred in an intimate Grande Palais salon, its walls covered in black tenting, the ceiling black as well until the overture of sorts when an intense light show got started and two rows of ceiling panels retracted to reveal additional lighting and sound equipment that was then lowered over the runway.
Cool fest alert? Did Slimane offer a new, stunning prescription for edgy chic funneled through the Saint Laurent lexicon? Not even close. Rather, he filtered sweet homage through an L.A., rock-loving lens (or possibly, a pitch to dress some of Rachel Zoe’s skinniest clients). It was interesting to the point of odd. First look out: small black jacket; skinny black pants; white frilled shirt; big, soft bow at the neck; bigger-brimmed fedora. This was followed by countless variations of the same — the fabrics changing from wool to leather to glitz to pinstripes and from cotton to silk and back — and of a second theme, Saint Laurent flou, every look under major chapeau shade. On one level it charmed, but what to make of it all? Perhaps that within his two primary points, Slimane incorporated house codes to be developed in future forays: Tailoring. Smoking. Gypsy tiers. Languid evenings. Saharienne. Animal spots. Chubby. Demonstrative jewelry. The only thing missing throughout was color, and that appeared sparingly in his evening finale.
Costumey though it was — and this was a costume parade, delivered either with reverence unblemished by irony or with a sense of irony too highly developed for all but the most anthropologically astute to get — there was considerable takeaway. Given the proverbial “broken-down” treatment, the clothes were good: slick, sexy pants, jackets and shirts, which on their own won’t scream retro and, to a lesser degree, gowns that women will want to wear. Often. Which means herein could be the building blocks for the kind of business YSL has in mind. According to sources, the company aspires to 1 billion euros in sales by the end of this decade.
Slimane’s part in achieving that goal speaks to the role of the creative director in today’s brand-oriented reality. At a major luxury house intent upon exploding its global market share, is it more important for the designer-creative director to advance fashion, to offer new prescriptions, to challenge, or to make understandably stylish clothes with which there may already be a familiarity factor? Though the two can coexist, they’re not the most naturally simpatico companions. At Saint Laurent, Slimane owns complete oversight of all things creative, from advertising to store design to the dimensions of the shoebox. Perhaps upcoming on his to-do list will be finding a seamless fusion of fashion, comfort and risk.