What is Hedi Slimane’s mandate at Saint Laurent? Without a clearunderstanding of purpose, it’s difficult to review his fall collectionin a lucid way.

Typically, when a designer takes over a storiedhouse, said mandate is, at least in part, to air out and freshen up,ditching the dated while transforming the best of the founder’siconography into modern wonders that entice the global customer to buythe clothes, but if not the clothes, then the real moneymakers — bags,shoes, fragrance. Yet does it have to be that way? If a woman loves adress, does she really care if she can draw a straight line back to herown mental archive of the founder’s work? Probably not.

Thecollection Slimane showed on Monday night didn’t shout, whisper or evenmouth the words Saint Laurent. But (blasphemous though it may ring tothose who worship at the YSL altar), to do so might not be thedesigner’s mandate. Word around Paris is that the company brass wantsthe collection to skew younger in look in the hopes of engaging ayounger customer. Consider that done. Surely one cannot miss theubiquity of Seventies-ish floppy hats around this city, both at theshows and elsewhere — a trend traceable to Slimane’s spring runway.

Noneof which explains his fall collection. Continuing from his terrificmen’s collection, he worked a grunge theme, “California Grunge” to bespecific. It was all about little dresses — baby dolls, high-collaredschoolgirls, scoop-necked Lolitas — under the cover of big, sloppycardigans and woolly mufflers with interludes of leather-based sexpotsthat swung toward biker babe. What there was, in droves: a sense of thedesigner’s bravado. The man has guts. In absentia: the hallowed originalthought, though one is reminded of Coco Chanel’s admonition, “Onlythose with no memory insist on their originality.” Still, he missed thechance to take a motif well-entrenched in fashion’s public domain andmake it his own.

Then there’s the issue of using expensiveclothes to achieve a deliberately down-market attitude. But Slimaneisn’t the first designer to elevate a bargain-bin look to luxury prices —that, too, is a fashion standard, though he could have pushed the ironyof that ruse more obviously. And yes, there were clothes that theretailers who loved Slimane’s debut collection for spring will loveagain, notably the leather jackets, a few coats and many of the dresses,virtually all charming and some, obviously expensive, such as the lastlook out, an allover embroidered A-line dress with pristine whitecollar.

Few archetypes are more engaging than the undone girl,especially when under her ratty hair, pout, pounding gait and sloppychic lurk a pretty face and skinny body. But is playing a cutesy,disaffected-youth hand enough to propel the house of Saint Laurent intotoday’s luxury stratosphere — especially if the targeted air space isthat in which Chanel and Dior reside? That, too, remains a question.

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