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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
  • Suleman Anaya

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


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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