What to Make of Saint Laurent?

The day after Slimane’s grunge-inspired second womenswear outing for Saint Laurent, BoF examines the swirl of criticism the collection provoked and reflects on where the house may be headed.

Saint Laurent A/W 2013 | Source: Nowfashion

PARIS, France – What is one to make of Hedi Slimane’s latest showing for Saint Laurent? Many guests left the overtly California-grunge-inspired collection, shown at the Grand Palais, in a state that ranged from amused puzzlement to appalled disbelief.

One top international editor wondered if what she had just witnessed was an extravagantly produced prank. Others resorted to sarcasm. “Am I watching Saint Laurent or Topshop?” tweeted an LA Times editor, while the meme “All Saints Laurent” percolated on Facebook.

No matter how you slice it, the collective response to Slimane’s second effort for the storied label was overwhelmingly negative. Only a small number of followers were approving, including (unsurprisingly) invited celebrity guests Kirsten Dunst, Pixie Geldorf and Allison Mossheart, as well as Leandra Medine, aka The Man Repeller, who in a seemingly positive tweet exclaimed: “You’re doing it, Saint Laurent! (Insert resounding YES! here).”

After initial reactions tempered, however, what remained was a sense of confusion and what New York Times reporter Eric Wilson, in his review this morning, called “conflict,” speaking to the divisive nature of the collection. The general disappointment — which follows last season’s mixed reaction to the designer’s debut for Saint Laurent — is in direct measure to the great promise that was projected onto Slimane from the moment of his appointment. Many in the industry had great hopes for the designer, expecting a fresh vision that would revolutionise fashion as we know it, while reinterpreting the rich legacy of the maison (more akin to what Raf Simons is doing over at Dior). “Anyone expecting the frisson of the future that Slimane once provided would have to feel let down yet again,” wrote Tim Blanks in his review for Style.com.

With yesterday’s showing, the designer proved that he refuses to be influenced by such expectations. Hedi will be Hedi and if that means indulgent reiterations of his love affair with California and its rock’n’roll subculture, then that’s exactly what Saint Laurent will be about.

In Paris today, some went so far as to speculate whether Slimane’s latest collection was intended to elicit the reactions it has, not unlike Yves Saint Laurent’s controversial 1971 Nazi-inspired show, deemed a “a tour de force of bad taste” at the time, but now thought to have been a deliberate attempt by the complicated designer to provoke negative reactions.

But the more pertinent question seems to be, not whether what Slimane is doing is right for the house or why he is doing it, but where the house might be headed. At the most basic level, the collection seems evidence of yet another top luxury brand distancing itself from the kind of high-concept fashion that receives lavish editorial praise but performs middlingly in stores. Indeed, Wilson conceded that “there were many pieces that looked commercially lucrative,” while Blanks predicted “money in the bank for retailers.”

The looks on Slimane’s runway were unrepentantly geared at the very young. From a strategic point of view that hardly seems reprehensible. It also explains why the collection seemed to stray from the house’s heritage, given that the prospective customer may be too young to remember (or care) what the so-called ‘codes of the house’ are.

In the first review to post after the show, Reuters pointed out: “It was perfectly apparent that Slimane and Saint Laurent’s owner, luxury group PPR, are searching out younger clients, born too late to remember the many innovations of [the house’s] founder.” But if indeed the intent of the designer and his employers was for Saint Laurent to forge a connection with a younger generation, whose definition of what constitutes luxury is notably different to that of their parents, then it’s only logical to wonder how this ostensible target would be able to afford Slimane’s super-short babydoll dresses and pink fur coats, which will no doubt be firmly priced at the top end of the market.

One school of thinking says that once a designer is installed at a house, he dictates its identity, and not the other way around. New York Magazine’s “The Cut” blog certainly echoed that view in a post on Slimane’s opinion-splitting show. “With his second collection at Saint Laurent, the message was literally loud, clear, and confident: Anyone expecting something ‘more traditionally YSL’ can piss off. Hedi has firmly asserted himself at the house. He’s doing Hedi, and that’s okay. This is a lifestyle brand for musicians and those who want to hang out with them. It’s tough, but it’s luxury, down to those heavily embellished (and surely expensive) leather boots.”

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  1. Faltering sales cannot justify a departure from the reality that skewing to the young, who understand thrifting and their mom’s closets well, will not increase sales. In some ways, it’s very sad to have misdirected Hedi with that edict … and beyond ego for him to maintain Los Angeles residency. Touches of rock and grunge and cool, done with a luxurious hand (oh Marc Jacobs Grunge dresses, silk chiffons way back around ’92 that were 1300.00 back then, wispy and delicate and gorgeous and expensive) could have worked … but a reprise of Los Angeles based Wasteland is immature.

    The question is why Pierre Berge, who taught every other house in Europe about the importance of the brand, would embrace Hedi, would embrace the Saint Laurent branding contra to the many YSL licenses? WHO is running this?

    It can’t happen but dreamt last night of a Yohji for YSL collection and it was magnificent.

    madeleine gallay from Santa Monica, CA, United States
  2. I don’t think anyone is denying the concept of coming into an established house and turning it on it’s side, however when the ideas are unoriginal, literal and cliche we question whether they hired the right person for the job. The terrible clothes are an aside to the blatant ego and narcissism Hedi has shown in his return to fashion. We all seem to forget this is a designer being paid handsomely to do this job which in my opinion was an irresponsible and immature attempt at best. Plain and simple this collection doesn’t hold a candle to his brilliant colleagues like Pheobe Philo, Valentino and the list goes on and on. I would love to see Hedi swiftly removed for the likes of Ghesquiere so he can go back to LA and comfortably be “l’enfant terrible” in his own mind taking photographs of bratty starlets.

    bessy from Vancouver, BC, Canada
  3. It is going to take around 3 collections for Pinault to realise the blunder. Hedi maybe appealing to the younger generation but how many young people can afford YSL? If he is targeting the successful mid thirties woman who aspires for more premium brands then again he has missed the target audience. There is no way we are wearing leather in so much excess.
    The clear difference between Hedi and Raf was evident from the start. One changed an iconic brand and the other began with the question who is the Dior woman? Simple yet powerful questions always result in better answers.

    Divya, founder of ShopGodt from Philadelphia, PA, United States
  4. I’m not taking sides but researching:
    “1971: Yves Saint Laurent’s Homage aux Années 40s caused scandal. After the show Saint Laurent told French Vogue, “What I want to do is shock.” Sometimes it takes something shocking to create change. And sometimes it takes ‘the ugliest show in town’ to change the face of fashion.” MAY 20, 2011 BY: JOEL NIKOLAOU http://www.examiner.com/article/1971-yves-saint-laurent-s-homage-aux-ann-es-40s

    mila hagen CA, US from Richmond, CA, United States
  5. On recent interview Francois-Henry Pinault said that the designers in PPR can’t be bigger than the brands. I think we have a huge contradiction in Hedi’s case…

    Mirela from Rio De Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
  6. You Should Leave

    disenchanted from Oxford, Oxfordshire, United Kingdom
  7. i live in asia and i think this collection will sell here ~ and isn’t that the main point?

    michelle from T'ai-wan, Taiwan
  8. So much vitriol, so much self righteousness in the comments here. Slimane proposed a young ideal in Paris. Good. As for those hoping he will be sacked form his post, then let me tell you he will be in good company and perfectly following, if not the codes of the house, then at very least the codes of its creator Mr Yves Saint Laurent himself who was himself sacked from Dior in 1960 after showing his Beat collection. A collection featuring a coat nicknamed ‘le blouson noir’ after French leather jacked “hoodlums”, and a collection based too on the St Germain beatnik scene.

    Baby Fritz from London, London, United Kingdom
  9. the most gorgeous fashion show in centuries.
    u are vicious people, don’t u?

    antonio from Lisbon, Lisbon, Portugal
  10. well, we should all recall the other punk, Lee McQueen changing Givenchy. His first collection got the most negative reviews and he really changed the vision of the fashion house for the best.
    YSL was the one of the big Houses which was left out with old aesthetics. I understand what Hedi was trying to do here, but he just went the wrong way with his PR team. He wanted to be revolutionary, and he had a potential, but his ego and terrible stalking behaviour for press just got him deep into mud.
    I have to admit, the collection is terrible from all the angles, you could’ve played the grunge theme differently with a bit more creativity and less banality. But a vision is a vision, we will see what happens next.
    Don’t think it’s going sell that great, just because we all got fed up with grunge last season. His stuff looks good on the pictures he makes by himself, for himself and well … of himself?

    Mango Avocado from Toronto, ON, Canada
  11. HATED THIS COLLECTION! . We all know nothing is new anymore but the lack of originality is embarrassing. Was the target audience even kept in mind? If the classic aesthetic of YSL was incorporated with grunge..then maybe it would have worked better

    kiara from Durham, NC, United States
  12. I find it interesting that there is so much chatter about “codes of the house” in regards to Hedi’s Saint Laurent designs, whereas this topic never seems to arise in the invariably rave reviews of Riccardo Tisci’s work at Givenchy.

    Yves Saint Laurent (the man) soon departed radically from the codes of the house of Dior after he became head designer there at the age of 21 and was roundly criticized for producing collections, including biker jackets, that were considered too “street” for couture. Perhaps Hedi is simply more interested in the DNA of YSL the man than YSL the maison.

    It’s so interesting to note the general tenor of retail buyers’ remarks on the collection in WWD: the critics will hate it but it will sell. Shouldn’t fashion houses be designing for the customer rather than the critics?

    Caricouture from Galway, Galway, Ireland
  13. so glad that some commentors are loving Saint Laurent. The more I look @ the collection, the more I like….the trench/duffel coats, the leather bikers, glittery cardigans, black dresses & the iconic smock dress (tho this Peter Pan collar versions looks juvenile).
    hedi slimane has re-interpreted the designer’s signature looks & re-connected the brand with the youth/boho vibe that established Saint Laurent as fashion’s original enfant terrible. the designs may not set the world on fire; it’s easy to diss it as TopShop , All Saints, etc.
    but the girl who can afford couture grunge will buy couture grunge.
    plus, the difference will be in the fabrics, details, etc.
    take the example of China in Mao’s days, when everyone supposedly wore only blue/olive/brown baggy Mao suits. But the top leaders were subtly smarter bcos their suits were made from better fabrications and cut sharp.
    the point is, there could be more to that price-y disheveled mess that came down the SL runway.

    al from Petaling Jaya, Selangor, Malaysia
  14. The point is not just to sell clothes. The challenge is to sell clothes that are true to the legacy and identity of a brand. Prada sells clothes. Calvin Klein sells clothes. Do you have to stoop to such low-class, jaw-droppingly awful, down-right embarrassing lows to sell more? I remember when Olivier Theyskens was at the top of his game and complained he was not selling anything. Did he change Rochas into an H&M or a Topshop? Did he start commercializing his namesake collections just to make a dollar? No, he teamed up with a brand (Theory) that had the commercial ability and identity to support his goals, and made compromises. It is clear that Hedi had all the wrong intentions with YSL. He wanted to make a point that was all too narcissistic. And it’s a long way to fall from such a high horse…

    Natalie from London, London, United Kingdom
  15. But why it’s not then Hedi Slimane collection which is manufacturing this shit? I don’t get the idea of ruining the amazing heritage of YSL?

    tutu from Espoo, Southern Finland, Finland
  16. The collection was garbage, coming from a person that has deep issues with authority and corporate protocol. This young designer even went ahead a designed a BRAND NEW design direction since this fiasco, and he ACTUALLY being talked about by some very big heavy hitters that want to get rid of Slimane IMMEDIATELY! check out his article, he designed one layered look, and it looks wonderful!: http://seaki.wordpress.com/2013/03/11/to-yves-saint-laurent-with-all-my-love-xoxo/

    David Brennen from Bronx, NY, United States
  17. OK i’m not here to bash Slimane but possibly show something in a different light.

    First we need to go back to the firing of the past designer who by most to be considered “thrown under the bus”. Enter Heidi and the changing of the name of the house and the overly willful decision to move the design studio to Los Angeles? One can imagine the Fed Ex bills for fabric samples going back and forth, let alone the airline tickets for Slimane and company.

    When this all went down the parent company announced that they wanted “a younger customer”, well it seems that’s what Heidi was trying to do. The first collection which many dubbed a “Rachel Zoe” was indeed a throw back to Bianca Jagger, seems we did not see that one coming?.

    As for the Courtney Love collection which she loved, it seems like another valiant attempt to hook that younger consumer but Heidi forgot something. Grunge was a period in time most people would like to forget. Most young kids were in diapers when this was going down. Most do not remember the “Heroine chic” photo spreads in the major magazines, the dead bodies and the United States Clinton administration head to head confrontation with the fashion industry, who did an about face via Clinique’s “happy” fragrance.

    My take on this is, in the end he was just following orders set down by PPR. If he sent the girls down the runway not touting flannel shirts would this collection been so bad? Granted the boots did not help the situation!

    But what’s done is done and the company has yet to make any changes and there have been to public announcements regarding any changes to a new design director. Every day that goes by is another day closer to the S/S 2014 collection and even more the Haute Couture.

    With the Balenciaga Wang union it may cushion the blow on sales for Saint Laurent but I feel that more $ will be spent on Wang for public appearances and brand pushing. PPR knows there’s on the radar screen with YSL but with every day that passes more questions then solutions arise.

    BTW John Galliano needs a job…

    thefashiontribune from New York, NY, United States
  18. If PPR wants a complete departure from the YSL old codes, why don’t they bankroll a Slimane brand?
    In any case, Slimane is really a blast from the past. A past that worked in the 90′s and that we no longer want to revisit (too early and too ugly to be revisited). Looking that cheap was never so expensive. Big bucks to look like you just stepped out of All Saints.
    Shame that a rich brand like YSL is been dragged through the mud of grunge…There is a difference between Yves’s 70′s androgenic look and the plain boring boyishness look from Slimane.

    ed from London, London, United Kingdom
  19. I don’t think it’s my imagination that since this collection debuts, fashion writers/editors/magazines in general have been hailing grunge as the next big thing. I guess the ones pulling the levers on that one are those with the most to loose…

    Santa from Ireland