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Saint Laurent's Modernist Showman

Inspired by the 1976 'Russian peasant' collection, Anthony Vaccarello managed to condense the oeuvre of one of fashion’s incontrovertible geniuses into something so contemporary.
By
  • Tim Blanks
BoF PROFESSIONAL

PARIS, France — Last season, Anthony Vaccarello made the Eiffel Tower an accessory to his open-aired Saint Laurent presentation. The same venue on a night when the mercury plunged past North Pole wouldn't have worked. So Vaccarello turned it into a huge, sparkling mausoleum. Outside, shafts of light shooting in all directions, inside, a cosmos of lightbulbs reflecting off walls of black PVC. "Something simple," said Vaccarello. "Playing with light."

Though his congenital shy-and-retiring might interfere with him agreeing with the comparison, he's a modernist showman, quite the match of his predecessor at the house of Saint Laurent. The runway shots that accompany this screed can't do justice to the distance the models had to traverse, their insignificance against the scale of the shadowy setting, the imperial electronica that accompanied their long march. And, like Hedi Slimane before him, Vaccarello has subsumed the codes of the house so thoroughly that they've become abstractions.

The foundation of this new collection was Saint Laurent’s “Russian peasant” couture collection from Autumn/Winter 1976, an epochal, gilded and voluminous extravagance in its time. But that’s not now. Vaccarello’s palette is minimal, black. For the show’s opening passage, he distilled the extravagance into the frogging on a jacket, the tassel on a boot. Evoking Loulou de la Falaise and Betty Catroux, the minxes, the Scylla and Charybdis of YSL’s universe, Vaccarello said, “I want to see Loulou going to Betty in a way, something Russian, more bohemian, going to something more street, more tailored.”

Such a notion is a bit rye bread after chocolate fondant. But, in its own monomaniacal, obsessive way it worked. It's like Vaccarello with his shorts – or should we say, hot pants! "The best way to describe modernity, the best way to walk," he enthused. And the best way to focus the eye on what was going on above the waist: the hyper-tailored sequined and beaded jackets, the lurex zebra, the donut of mink enveloping Jamie Bochert's shoulders. There were enough similarly dressed women in the audience, Kate Moss amongst them, to suggest that Vaccarello has a solid constituency of female devotees.

There were a number of male guests who were also flying the beading-on-black flag. Vaccarello's menswear featured crushed velvet suits, a silver beaded bomber, a devoré-ed fur jacket and astrakhan cape (the house clearly hasn't yet committed to a fur-free future, unlike Kering stablemate Gucci). It was a somewhat diffident interlude — the ineffectuality of men in the face of Vaccarello's glamazons — before the return of the designer's women in sweetheart-necklined black column dresses, and face-of-now Adut Akech buried in what looked like a giant feathered crow.

Then, a grand finale of Russian-peasant florals in pelmet-skirted dresses clotted with embroidery, sequins and beads. In one way, it was fiercely impressive that Vaccarello had managed to condense the oeuvre of one of fashion's incontrovertible geniuses into something so reduced and, yes, contemporary. In another, it was a downbeat face-off with reality that YSL's gorgeously elaborate originals, formed in a crucible of unique fashion creativity, would simply not fly with the clientele who are currently buying the clothes labelled with his name.

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