Byline: Sarah Raper

PARIS — Ever since Gucci Group began building a new luxury goods conglomerate the focus has been on acquiring brands in need of a little juicing, but on Thursday Gucci switched gears and said it was in talks to finance a new fashion house for Hedi Slimane, the Yves Saint Laurent men’s wear designer.
Gucci said in a statement that Slimane had resigned from Saint Laurent, the fashion house that Gucci acquired in November, “to pursue exclusive negotiations” with Gucci for the launch of his own label. The news confirms a report in these columns on Thursday.
“Hedi Slimane’s talent is so strong that he deserves his own label,” noted Tom Ford, creative director for Gucci and YSL, who is said to have pushed hard to keep Slimane in the Gucci fold. ”I am a big fan of his and look forward to his success within our group.”
It’s understood that in addition to men’s wear, Slimane, known for sleek tailoring with an androgynous feel, is negotiating to do a women’s line under his own name, but a spokesman for the house declined to discuss the talks or to speculate on the timing of a deal.
In the on-again-off-again Slimane-Gucci romance, what a difference just a few weeks can make. In February, there was a noisy standoff as Slimane told the new Gucci team he was ready to quit. Slimane, Gucci insiders claimed, was overly demanding in salary negotiations. Those close to the 31-year-old designer say salary wasn’t ever the major issue for him: Slimane simply did not want to work under Tom Ford at YSL.
News of the feud traveled quickly, and a meeting was set up for Slimane with LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton chairman Bernard Arnault. That tete-a-tete touched off rumors about Slimane taking over men’s wear at Dior or getting LVMH to bankroll his own line. There were also reports that Prada Group was considering Slimane as a potential successor to Jil Sander.
Christophe Girard, who introduced Slimane to YSL co-founder Pierre Berge and is now director of fashion strategy at LVMH, declined to confirm Slimane’s meeting with Arnault, but said he wished Slimane good luck in the new venture. “If this is confirmed, it’s always stimulating to have more competition and to see new designers in the market,” said Girard, “We at LVMH already have many strong designers.”
Were LVMH and Slimane serious about getting together? Maybe the LVMH meeting was merely a clever maneuver to worry Arnault’s arch-rivals at Gucci. LVMH sources say there was never a concrete offer.
The Slimane-Gucci falling out caught fashion watchers by surprise. When Gucci took over the management of YSL fashion and accessories and YSL Parfums last fall from Berge and Yves Saint Laurent, it was clear that many design and marketing people would lose their jobs. Recently, Gucci appointed Chantal Roos — currently president of Beaute Prestige International — president and managing director of the beauty division that includes YSL Parfums and several other brands, and said that Raymond Ortal would be exiting that post.
Earlier this week, news began to circulate that another member of the Old Guard had been fired. Ariel de Ravenel, who was director of communications for YSL Parfums for eight years, and part of Berge and Saint Laurent’s social circle for decades, reportedly was asked to leave the house by the time Roos starts on April 10. She could not be reached, and a Gucci spokesman declined to comment.
In the fashion division, there was never any question that Tom Ford would oversee the women’s ready-to-wear design and replace Alber Elbaz, the designer hired by Berge to succeed Saint Laurent. That change was announced in March.
But Slimane was different. Ford went out of his way to praise the men’s wear designer and to send signals he would be staying on.
Once again on Thursday it seemed that the romance was back on and that whatever concerns Slimane once had about interference from Ford have been assuaged. “I wish to warmly thank Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Berge, as well as the whole team, for the experience I had at Yves Saint Laurent. I am very interested by the project proposed with Gucci Group to set up my own company,” Slimane said in the statement. He did not return phone calls seeking more information about his plans.
And De Sole said in the statement that Gucci “looked forward to providing [Slimane] with the opportunity to develop his point of view as part of the Gucci Group. This is part of our strategy to cultivate and foster extraordinary design talent within our industry.”
Hired as an assistant in fashion marketing three years ago and then quickly promoted to designer, Slimane successfully revved up Saint Laurent’s Rive Gauche Homme collection with leather trenchcoats, pinch-waisted suits and plunging shirts.
YSL executives said that there would be no runway show for the YSL men’s line in July. Instead, the collection, which will be overseen by Ford, will be presented to retailers in the showroom.

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