THE WORD ON YSL
Byline: Robert Murphy / Miles Socha / With contributions from Kevin West
PARIS — Tom Ford walked a tightrope at Yves Saint Laurent, and while retailers, editors and other observers largely applauded his efforts, the collection failed to garner unanimous raves.
While some termed Ford’s black-and-white collection a bold and aggressive first step in reinventing a legendary brand, some journalists — especially members of the French press — voiced reservations.
“I think to do everything in black and white takes incredible conviction,” said fashion editor Polly Mellen. “The collection was strong, brave and it’s where Tom’s heart is. He’s not afraid to be tough, to be criticized. I loved it.”
But she said “This is just a beginning. This is not landing on the moon. It can’t be a moon landing every time.”
Retailers said they had high expectations that Ford’s sexed-up Saint Laurent would get registers ringing.
“Everyone is going to want to wear these clothes,” said Kal Ruttenstein, senior vice president for fashion direction at Bloomingdale’s. He said he liked the strong shoulders, fuller pants and new proportions. “Tom’s creative enough to take the elements and make them his own.”
“Tom Ford delivered exactly what he said,” added James Aguiar, fashion director of ready-to-wear at Bergdorf Goodman. “No nonsense, paired down and sharp. Who wouldn’t want a YSL suit now!”
“Very glamorous,” was how Jeffrey Kalinsky, who owns Jeffrey stores in New York and Atlanta, described Ford’s collection. “I think it was smart to keep it to black and white because he gave himself a blank canvas. I liked the proportions throughout the collection.
“Tom Ford is one of the smartest men in the business and I think women are going to be wanting to wear the new YSL,” he said. “It was very exciting to be there and be a part of it.”
“He was working with classical YSL elements, but he did it in an overtly sexual way. It was exaggerated,” said Judy Collinson, executive vice president and general merchandise manager at Barneys New York. “We’ve never seen YSL look to the street for trends before, and it will be interesting to see where he goes with it.”
Collinson pointed out that Ford stayed true to his own vision in the collection. “You criticize people when they aren’t themselves, and this is what he does,” she said. “He did YSL in his own way, by using exaggerations, but was very respectful.”
Sarah, the buyer at the Paris store Colette who doesn’t use a surname, said opinions were divided among her team. “It might not incorporate the finesse one would expect from Yves Saint Laurent, but it is commercial,” she explained. “There are some very good pieces for the store.”
Sue Patneaude, vice president of designer apparel at Nordstrom, liked the tuxedos and dresses with “new soft wrapping and feminine treatments. There were references to Saint Laurent, but it was new and totally appropriate.”
Although not a triumph, Patneaude said it represented a strong, new voice showing that Tom Ford is staking out his ground at the house.
“I don’t think Tom Ford will develop all of his ideas in one season,” she said. “I like to think that there will be many seasons to come.”
“It was a good beginning for Tom,” agreed Joan Kaner, senior vice president and fashion director of Neiman Marcus. “But he didn’t reinvent the wheel.”
Francois Pinault, who rescued Gucci from a hostile bid by LVMH last year, lauded Ford’s effort. “It’s extraordinary that he was able to successfully tackle the challenge. He was able to keep the Saint Laurent spirit, while moving forward into the 21st century.”
Meanwhile, the original Saint Laurent gang, including Pierre Berge and Loulou de la Falaise, were more reserved with their reactions. Although Berge declined to comment, Falaise was succinct in her assessment. “It was clean,” she said. Asked if she would wear any of the clothes, she replied, “Maybe some of the pants.”
Editors and designers also weighed in with positive assessments.
“I thought he was smart to do it in a simple way, with really chic wearable clothes with enough of this season’s trends,” said Anna Wintour, editor in chief of Vogue. “To go for the classic image of Saint Laurent is wonderful, and I loved the way he laughed at the press with the last outfit. He took a lot of old Saint Laurent. We’ll see what the next step will be, but the first time out was fabulous.”
“The power woman is coming, with the one little perverse detail, the orchid at the neck,” said Andre Leon Talley, editor at large at Vogue. “It’s all about sex and desire, and Tom is one of the masters of sex and desire. The electricity was quiet, but it was there.”
“I think it was bold. He wanted to make a cut and start fresh,” said Diane Von Furstenberg. “It was like he created a blank canvas, but there were some very interesting innovations. I loved all the origami and the wrapping. It was a statement and it was very courageous. He will build on from there.”
“I think he proved everything he needed to prove,” said Amy Spindler, style editor of the New York Times Magazine. “It was really powerful. This was about getting past the first collection. It seemed like a very deliberate, determined collection and it did what it had to do.”
Marcus Von Ackerman, fashion director at French Vogue, said he was impressed with the first half of the collection, especially the tuxedo suits. “Tom managed to capture the essence of Paris chic,” he said. “It’s a tremendous start, but it’s going to take time. It was everything I expected and more.”
“It had the rigor of a black and white photograph that basically captured the essence of Saint Laurent,” said Ingrid Sischy, editor in chief of Interview magazine. “It was really paying serious respect to what the house has been.”
Asked if Ford was effective in establishing a new vision for the house with the collection, Sischy replied, “You can’t capture that remarkable history of the house in one night, but he captured the essence of a real style that is Saint Laurent.”
Over the weekend, the YSL collection received torrents of coverage in the European press, with most French editors finding Ford’s take on YSL underwhelming.
Suzy Menkes, fashion editor at the International Herald Tribune, called it a “tepid debut.”
In a front-page review published Saturday, she said it was “neither a triumph or a travesty.” Taking into consideration the considerable hype surrounding the show, Menkes said it “did not provide the expected crescendo to the spring-summer season” and too closely resembled “Gucci’s sultry glamour.”
Janie Samet, fashion editor at Le Figaro, also found it full of Gucci overtones. “The oversized pants, didn’t we see that last week in Milan?” Samet praised some of the clothes, but with reservations. “Was the body forgotten, drowned? Not always.”
Other French journalists didn’t make an effort to cloak their reserve. Laurence Benaim, fashion editor at Le Monde, called the effort clinical and without soul, saying Ford tripped on his own ambition.
“Yves Saint Laurent had a point of view, an attitude,” Benaim wrote in her review Saturday. “He subverted the rules to better reinvent them. Tom Ford seems to fear surprise to such an extent that he gets lost in a single vision that desexualizes the obvious.”
Cedric Saint Andre Perrin, fashion editor at Liberation, said Ford failed to capture the essence of Saint Laurent. “It was an aseptic version of Saint Laurent,” he said. “When Saint Laurent put women in tuxedos it was provocative. Ford’s version is austere and commercial, with no emotion. He didn’t show a new Saint Laurent vision, he just masqueraded Gucci as Saint Laurent.”
However, Saint Andre Perrin was quick to point out the Herculean task Ford set himself. “Sometimes it takes a few seasons to find the right formula.”