YSL CONFIRMS ELBAZ TO DESIGN RIVE GAUCHE
Byline: Sarah Raper
PARIS — The house of Yves Saint Laurent said over the weekend that Saint Laurent is quitting ready-to-wear and Alber Elbaz of Guy Laroche has been hired to take over the design of Rive Gauche starting Nov. 1.
The announcement confirms a report in these pages June 5.
“Having chosen to devote his time exclusively to haute couture, Yves Saint Laurent has decided to entrust the creation of his various ready-to-wear lines to Alber Elbaz,” a statement from the house said.
“Over the past two years, Elbaz has created three collections for Guy Laroche and a fourth will be presented on Oct. 15. His first Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche collection will be presented in March 1999.
“The next Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche collection to be shown in October 1998 will be created by the studios of the couture house under the supervision of Mr. Yves Saint Laurent, himself,” the statement continued.
Meanwhile, Saint Laurent will continue to design haute couture for the house.
Elbaz, who turns 37 this week, was reached at home over the weekend and said he was thrilled. “More than a career move, it is like a dream come true for me,” he said. “I have had a wonderful two years at Guy Laroche. The house is like a family for me. I think Yves Saint Laurent is the one and only house I would leave Guy Laroche for.”
Elbaz, whose three-year contract with the house was settled Friday, will be creative director for women’s ready-to-wear, which includes Rive Gauche and Variations, as well as accessories.
At Laroche, president Ralph Toledano said he expected to announce a successor for Elbaz after the October show. “I am proud to have found Alber, and I am proud to have demonstrated that you can relaunch a house successfully with someone who is an unknown,” Toledano said.
“We did it once — we’ll do it twice and even better the second time,” he said. “I regret losing Alber. I see him as a partner in business and almost a younger brother, but it’s life, and we wish him all the best. But there are other people and other formulas to consider for Laroche.”
Toledano said his ideal candidate would have a strong commercial sense, would not have his own line or commitments to any other companies, and that he or she might not even be a designer. “Our emphasis now will be to work on strengthening the brand identity, and there are different kinds of people who could be brought in as creative directors,” Toledano said.
Christophe Girard, executive vice president at YSL, said YSL chief Pierre Berge had begun actively looking for a successor over the last 18 months.
“Yves Saint Laurent, like any designer and founder of a house, wanted to insure its future. He and Mr. Berge have taken the time to meet and see several younger designers,” Girard said.
“This is a decision that has required long reflection but in the end was made very easily.” He ticked off several factors that had been important.
“Alber Elbaz does not have his own house, and that is a huge advantage. Also, he has a strong sense of his craft — he knows the distribution, he knows modern work techniques — and partly this is due to his experience in America,” Girard said, referring to the eight years Elbaz spent at Geoffrey Beene before joining Laroche. “Finally, he is a wonderful person.”
Girard said the negotiations went very smoothly and that YSL had decided to transfer its fur salon from 7 Rue Leonce Reynaud, around the corner from the couture house, to free that building for Elbaz’s studio and the ready-to-wear teams.
Asked what sort of presence Saint Laurent would have once Elbaz started, Girard said: “I’m sure they’ll have some sort of a relationship. We’ll just have to see how it develops.”
Girard declined comment, but the timing of the handover was also seen as an effort to put the house in order before Berge’s mandate to run the house — as agreed upon with parent French pharmaceuticals giant Sanofi SA when it took over YSL in May 1993 — concludes at the end of the year 2000. (The official date is April 2001, which allows time for the previous years’ accounts to be audited, according to Sanofi officials.)
Berge and Saint Laurent both have “technical assistance” contracts guaranteed through the year 2016, Girard said. In addition, Saint Laurent was promised the right and the resources to continue doing couture until that date.
“We are eager to continue the haute couture for as long as Mr. Saint Laurent wishes and is able to do it,” said Jean-Paul Leon, executive vice president in charge of corporate strategy at Sanofi.
Asked about the change for ready-to-wear, Leon said that Sanofi had been kept abreast of developments. “We are the owners, and we are interested, but we have great confidence and believe that Mr. Berge is very capable of making the decisions necessary in the fashion business,” he said.
“We are very happy with our agreement with the founders of Yves Saint Laurent. We have said that they will run things through the year 2000, and we will wait and see when that time comes what we will do.”