PARIS, France — It’s been a real entertainment watching Yves Saint Laurent’s successors elaborating on his legacy, plucking a silhouette, a shade, a cultural tendency from the vast portfolio of ideas he left behind. Anthony Vaccarello mentioned YSL muses Betty Catroux and Catherine Deneuve as inspirations for his new collection. He struck an instant chord on the catwalk with coats. I was reminded of “La Chamade,” Deneuve in her epaulette-ed Saint Laurent trench. That was 1968. Half a century later, the world is simultaneously a much bigger and much smaller place. Vaccarello exploded Deneuve’s trench, and shrank everything under it. It was a spectacular start.
“Everything starts from the shoulder,” he said. “But I don’t want to talk about oversize.” Not the wide shoulder of the warrior, but the straight line of a confident, powerful woman, Vaccarello insisted. Still, the exaggeration that underpins his work loaned the collection an uncompromising extravagance. The widest, the shortest, the sheerest, the darkest, an extraordinarily obsessive parade of extremes, and so compulsive that the 18 menswear looks showed by Vaccarello played like a pallid intermission before we could get back to the main event of the women’s collection (a shout-out to Paul Hameline’s skunk stole though).
Saint Laurent sculpted aerodynamic buttresses of fabric in his haute couture. Without that rarefied outlet, Vaccarello was still able to defiantly manipulate silhouette. There was defiance too in the elaborate decoration, especially with a handful of rococo confections ribbed in gold, as perversely casual as cardigans.
Perverse could also almost be the word to describe Vaccarello’s congenitally shy and retiring nature as he described the show’s scale, with its pearl-like strands of light forming a huge mobile curtain against a massive mirrored wall. “We have to do a show, and to do a show we need lights,” he murmured. “It’s nothing conceptual.” But the models walked with their reflections. Split personalities. And the whole finale – fluoro and black light – was a delirious distillation of pure form. Too bad it was so hard to see from the audience. It was great that Vaccarello took such a risk. It was also great that the risk didn’t pay off. It leaves him room to move. The pursuit of perfection is, after all, a savage god.