PARIS — Yves Saint Laurent and his business partner, Pierre Bergé, applauded Tuesday’s revelation that Tom Ford and Domenico De Sole would relinquish their positions at Gucci Group in April and that, consequently, Ford would no longer design Saint Laurent after that date.
“It’s for the best,” said Saint Laurent in a telephone interview. “I didn’t identify with those clothes. He didn’t crystallize my style.”
The antagonism between Saint Laurent, Bergé and Ford has been well documented since Ford’s YSL debut in Paris in September 2000. In that show, Ford offered a paean to YSL muse Betty Catroux, making the models over in her image. It miffed Saint Laurent, who was further peeved when Ford dressed models at his ensuing men’s show as Saint Laurent doppelgängers.
Retaliating, Saint Laurent and Bergé opened a so-called couture shop next door to the YSL Rive Gauche shop on the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré here. Ford then fired his own salvo, closing the YSL beauty institute next door and throwing away all of the old Saint Laurent beauty products.
As recently as this spring, Saint Laurent himself said Ford didn’t measure up to the challenge. “The poor guy does what he can,” he quipped.
But on Tuesday, Saint Laurent and Bergé said that, in the beginning, they had looked forward to Ford’s arrival.
“I liked Tom Ford,” said Saint Laurent. “I was ready to collaborate with him in a more important way. But he wasn’t ready to work with his master.”
Soon after Gucci acquired Saint Laurent, Bergé and Saint Laurent dined with Ford on several occasions. On one occasion, Saint Laurent and Ford dined tête-à-tête at Paris’ Grand Vefour.
“We knew that Tom Ford had a lot of talent and that what he’d accomplished at Gucci was spectacular,” said Bergé in a separate interview. “At the beginning, we thought that [Ford’s arrival] was formidable. We knew that accessories [at YSL] were weak and that they [Ford and De Sole] had competence in that area.”
But relations soon chilled. “I welcomed Ford with open arms,” said Bergé, “but he cut off relations. If they had played the game differently, there would never have been hostilities. They stormed the house in a Trojan Horse. They treated it like they were taking Troy. They treated it like a war.”
Bergé said Saint Laurent first felt slighted when Ford did not show him any of his first designs.
“He didn’t even have that elegance,” said Bergé. “He didn’t ask Saint Laurent to look at the first designs — even out of pure respect.”
Then, Bergé said, Ford began to pillory the house’s heritage while bragging that he was purifying and cleaning it.
“When Saint Laurent posed naked for his fragrance, it was artistic,” said Bergé. “Ford’s naked man [for the M7 fragrance ad] was only pornographic.”
“It pained me to see what he did with my name,” said Saint Laurent. “But the house hasn’t been so damaged that it can’t be restored.”
Saint Laurent declined to say whom he believed capable of taking the helm at his namesake, but Bergé suggested Dutch duo Viktor & Rolf, whose show he attended last month.
“There was a client for my style,” said Saint Laurent. “The women didn’t find it with Tom Ford.”
“I believe that whomever takes over must restore the customer’s confidence,” said Bergé. “It must be done on the fashion side and it must be done with the fragrances. I don’t think the same person can do it. But Viktor & Rolf seem a great idea for the fashion. I saw their exhibition in Paris, and their designs pay homage to Saint Laurent in many ways. They could take Saint Laurent into the 21st century. Saint Laurent was the greatest designer of the 20th century, but someone needs to now take it into a new era.”
Bergé continued: “Tom Ford has talent, let’s be clear. But he didn’t manage to capture the essence of Saint Laurent. Maybe he had pumped Saint Laurent too much at Gucci and when he finally arrived at the real thing, he had nothing more to say. When you’re a good disc jockey, that doesn’t make you Elvis.”
But not all of Saint Laurent’s gang was pleased to learn of Ford’s imminent departure. Betty Catroux, who had attended all of Ford’s YSL shows, said the news left her “desperate.”
“What Tom did with Saint Laurent was phenomenal,” she said. “He made it current, mixed in some sex and was faithful to the Saint Laurent heritage. I loved what he did. He paid me a sublime homage in the first collection. And I never felt as good about myself as when I was dressed by Tom Ford.”
Even more than by Saint Laurent himself?
“I didn’t feel so good about myself back then,” said Catroux. “Let’s be clear. Their talents are different. Before, all you needed to be great was to be an artist. All you needed was the dream. Now you have to mix the dream with business.”