Byline: Robert Murphy

PARIS — Legendary couturier Yves Saint Laurent has retired, but the expertise his atelier built up over his 40-year career will go on — and be available to other designers.
French tycoon Francois Pinault, who since 1999 has owned and funded YSL’s money-losing business via his Artemis private holding firm, said Monday that he would sell YSL Haute Couture to SLPB Prestige Services, a fashion services firm, for a symbolic euro, or about 90 cents.
“Pinault wanted to find a way to save the people’s jobs working at the couture,” said his spokeswoman.
As reported in WWD Friday, the workers at the atelier had sent a letter to French First Lady Bernadette Chirac hoping she could in some way arrange for them to keep their jobs. It is not believed that the letter had any influence on this decision.
Neither Saint Laurent nor his name is part of the deal and there are no plans to hire a designer to replace him. Rather, the crux is the know-how Saint Laurent’s employees accrued and his Right Bank headquarters at 5 Avenue Marceau, which SLPB will lease. “Pinault still owns the Saint Laurent brand,” said the spokeswoman. “There are no plans to create another Saint Laurent couture house. What is being transferred is a very particular savoir faire in the ateliers.”
In a statement, Patrice Bouygues, president of SLPB, said he would use the YSL ateliers to “help designers, existing houses and young designers to express their talent and build a reputation.” He could not immediately be reached for comment.
The new business will go by the name “Prestige and Haute Couture,” and employ the 150 people who already work at YSL Haute Couture.
“It’s an intelligent solution,” commented Pierre Berge, Saint Laurent’s business partner. “Certainly, I’m happy that they found a way to save all the jobs.”
When he announced his retirement in January, Saint Laurent said he did not want the house to pursue couture under his name. Tom Ford, Gucci Group creative director, designs the YSL ready-to-wear, which was also acquired by Pinault in 1999. Pinault’s distribution conglomerate, Pinault Printemps Redoute, controls 53.2 percent of Gucci Group.
Bouygues, an engineer by training, founded SLPB in 1989. It employees 530 people and has revenue of about $20 million by selling logistical, production, delivery and other services to high-end fashion firms. It also finances French lingerie designers Sabrina Nadal and Vanina Vesperini.