Further fueling speculation that the designer considered one of the greatest of the 20th century is soon to retire, Saint Laurent has summoned reporters to an exceptional news conference on Monday.
In a fax sent on Wednesday, the reticent couturier said he would meet with the news media at noon in the salons of his Avenue Marceau fashion house. His partner of more than four decades, Pierre Berge, will also be present.
Berge, reached Wednesday, declined to comment, although he admitted the conference was being held to announce something “significant.” As reported in WWD Dec. 11, speculation is intense that Saint Laurent, 65, will bid the fashion world adieu after his spring-summer couture show here Jan. 23. The show, to be held at Paris’s Centre Georges Pompidou museum of modern art in lieu of Saint Laurent’s habitual Hotel Intercontinental venue, commemorates the designer’s 40th anniversary.
Opting to show at the Pompidou, some speculate, underscores a wish to mark Saint Laurent’s retirement with a special tribute.
Word of Saint Laurent’s possible departure has buzzed around Paris over the last month. The 40th anniversary of the fashion house is seen by many as the perfect time for Saint Laurent to bring to a close a career that has been matched only by the likes of such designers as Coco Chanel, Christian Dior and Cristobal Balenciaga. It also would end their involvement with Francois Pinault’s Artemis Group, which has funded the couture house since it bought the YSL business as part of Sanofi Beaute in 1999. Artemis promptly sold YSL Rive Gauche on to Gucci Group and Tom Ford now designs the YSL ready-to-wear collection.
Saint Laurent and Berge have made no secret of their dislike of Artemis, Tom Ford and Domenico De Sole, chief executive of Gucci.
Saint Laurent and Berge realized about $70 million when they surrendered the YSL Rive Gauche business to Gucci in 1999. Their contract stipulates that Artemis will fund the YSL couture collection until 2006.
As part of their agreement with Gucci, Berge and Saint Laurent also will receive installment payments of about $6.6 million a year until 2006. However, that figure would be cut in half if they retire before Dec. 31, 2006, making the total $11.5 million rather than $23.1 million. But Berge is in the middle of a bid to acquire control of the Paris auction house Drouot, which would put him in competition with Pinault’s Christie’s. In addition, Berge and Saint Laurent are expected to devote more time to the Yves Saint Laurent Foundation, established by Gucci to preserve Saint Laurent’s archives, including sketches, notebooks and samples. The foundation is being funded by Gucci, which agreed when it bought Rive Gauche to use 0.25 percent of YSL Beaute’s sales each year up to $1.875 million annually to finance it.
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The speculation over Saint Laurent’s next move also has been heightened by plans to air two documentary films about the designer on French cable TV network Canal Plus on Jan. 24.
The news media were invited to a private screening of one film late last month. Entitled “Yves Saint Laurent: Time Regained,” it is directed by Frenchman David Teboul and is a touching and revealing portrait of the designer that includes interviews with Saint Laurent, Berge and members of Saint Laurent’s entourage, from Betty Catroux to Loulou de la Falaise.
The other documentary, also by Teboul, is entitled “5 Avenue Marceau,” after the site of Saint Laurent’s couture house. The next day Canal Plus will air “Belle de Jour,” the first film in which Catherine Deneuve was dressed by Saint Laurent.