Beneath the Clothes: Deconstructing Hedi Slimane's Saint Laurent Debut

Saint Laurent Spring/Summer 2013
(Martin Bureau/AFP/Getty Images)

PARIS – “After all the hype, this had better be freaking amazing,” a friend of mine whispered last night while we waited for the Saint Laurent show to start. His comment seemingly captured the mood of everyone who crammed into Le Grand Palais to witness Hedi Slimane’s debut collection for the house. Since it was announced last March that Slimane would succeed Stefano Pilati at Saint Laurent (née Yves Saint Laurent; more on that later), journalists, industry insiders and pretty much anyone with a remote interest in fashion have worked themselves into a frenzy of speculation. Could Slimane – the former designer of YSL’s menswear collection and Dior Homme who took a five-year hiatus from fashion to focus on photography – design womenswear? Would his debut collection be better than Raf Simons’s first ready-to-wear outing at Dior? Is the fashion industry just going to explode from all this excitement?

All those questions were answered last night (yes, yes, and no, respectively). But there’s still much to discuss.

 

First off, the fashion industry’s obsession with painting Slimane and Simons as rivals is a little excessive. Throughout the past few months, there have been countless articles with titles like “Simons V. Slimane” or “The Battle of Champions.” Sure, the designers are both taking over massive houses owned by rival companies (LVMH owns Dior, PPR owns Saint Laurent), are both 44 years of age, and both have reputable menswear backgrounds. And naturally, fashion loves a little drama. But who cares? They’re different designers doing different things at different houses. However, if I were to play into the drama, I’d have to say Slimane’s covetable hippie-rocker-chic collection wins the point. Simons’s Dior show, with its haphazard, disconnected looks (black suits followed by one laser-cut neon dress, a splash of techno-leopard, and a slew of pastel cloud frocks over shorts does not a collection make) lacked cohesion, vision, and desirability.

Secondly, I’m still struggling to understand Saint Laurent’s decision to change its name from Yves Saint Laurent to Saint Laurent. Or Saint Laurent Paris. Or whatever they decided upon in the end. According to an article in the Guardian, Slimane derived the new name from Saint Laurent Rive Gauche, the title Yves Saint Laurent used for his ready-to-wear label when it launched in 1966. Really? Whether it’s out of habit or defiance, everyone is still calling the house YSL. Those letters are iconic. And considering Slimane’s entire collection was an homage to ’70s-era Yves, let’s not put too much emphasis on “rebranding.”

Then, as The Cut pointed out, there’s all this hoopla about Cathy Horyn not being invited to the show. That was simply ridiculous. The fact that a critic, whose job it is to critique a show, was not invited because the designer was offended by a story she wrote in 2004 which claimed that Simons was the pioneer of the skinny suit, rather than Slimane (OK, maybe the designer showdown wasn’t pulled completely out of thin air), is laughable. Say what you will about Horyn’s sharp tongue, but she’s still the fashion critic for the New York Times. She is deservedly regarded as one of the most reputable fashion journalists working today. And she should have been there.

But on to the most important (and really, only important) aspect of Slimane’s Saint Laurent takeover: the clothes. Quite frankly, this journalist thought the collection was fantastic. No, the designer’s signature skinny masculine tailoring, wide-brimmed fedora hats, and sheer chiffon gowns will not change the face of fashion. There was nothing shocking about the studded floor length leather skirt, the ostrich feather cape, the fringed suede jackets, or the poets’ blouses that stormed the runway to heavy guitar beats. It was clear that the clothes, with notes of bohemia and rebellion, were largely inspired by the Saint Laurent archive — a smart move for a designer stepping into a house with such distinguished history. And I don’t know a girl who wouldn’t want to wear something from that collection, whether it be the metal-tooth-embellished Mary Jane heels, the tassel necklaces that accompanied each look, the sharply cut tuxedo suit, or the shrunken sequin jacket. And I certainly know a lot of women who would want to be Slimane’s witchy spring girl. Yes, the collection was commercial. But is “commercial” such a dirty word? The clothes will sell. And the women who buy them will feel beautiful. 

In conclusion, Mr. Slimane, please restore the “Yves” to its proper place — in front of Saint Laurent. Please invite Cathy Horyn to your shows. And please, please keep making clothes like the ones we saw last night. 

Click on the slide show to see looks from the Saint Laurent spring 2013 collection.

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