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The New Era of Saint Laurent

Text by Carson Gartner.

When Hedi Slimane was appointed Creative Director of Yves Saint Laurent in 2012, the fashion world wasn’t sure what to expect. Slimane has since redefined the house and completely shined a new light on the Cool Girl.

Since its inception in 1961, the house of Yves Saint Laurent has epitomized elegance and refinery. Algerian-born Saint Laurent was heralded for bringing back the esteem of ready-to-wear and for using non-white models, a virtually unheard of choice in its day. In 1987, the designer passed his prêt-à-porter line over to his assistants, and in the following years, a succession of new head designers came and left the house. Hedi Slimane was first appointed as Collections and Art Director by Saint Laurent’s lover and co-founder of the house, Pierre Berge, in 1997, though he left two years later. In 2012, it was announced that Slimane would again return to the label, replacing Stefano Pilati as creative director. The fashion audience held its breath-Pilati had produced celebrated collections and was heralded by critics, but his pieces weren’t selling as expected. Hiring Slimane was an attempt by YSL to bring in the money that it had lost with Pilati at the helm. 

Hedi Slimane’s new direction for the label was confirmed when he announced that the ready-to-wear line would be re-branded as Saint Laurent Paris. By his omission of “Yves,” Slimane signified his turn of focus from the origin of the house and Yves’s own collections and vision. Slimane moved the design studio to Los Angeles, another indication that he was looking to modernize the label. Slimane’s first collection debuted for Spring 2013, and was a somewhat conservative show. The tailored jackets and androgynous suits were a homage to Yves’s classic tuxedo suit and groundbreaking Le Smoking suit. This first collection caused critics to second guess their first feelings of apprehension. Slimane no doubt felt reassured by the overwhelmingly positive critical response, and he quickly laced up his boots to produce a collection that deviated even further away from the label’s roots. From his second collection all the way up to his Fall/Winter 2015 show, it has become increasingly clear what the label Saint Laurent Paris was all about: the Cool Girl.

The past five Saint Laurent collections have been injected with a 70s punk rock glam flair. Short leather jackets, ripped fishnets and yards of tulle evoke images of a young Nancy Spungen, and the messy-haired, red-lipped models traipsing down his runway solidify Slimane’s cool-without-trying vision. Even his muses are real-life cool-girls, among them Sky Ferreira, Grace Hartzel, Edie Campbell and Grimes. Slimane’s re-imagining of Yves Saint Laurent’s iconic ready-to-wear label, although not popular among critics, has once again made YSL a leading player in the fashion market. Sales have skyrocketed, and it looks as though Slimane is here to stay for the foreseeable future. 

Though many fashion fans turn their noses up at Slimane’s re-imagined Saint Laurent, I find myself gravitating towards his vision. While I do admit that I find the shows horribly styled–with each look more and more reminiscent of Courtney Love’s early club days–the individual pieces of each look lend themselves nicely to an editorial mode. In fact, the messy allure of Saint Laurent exemplifies the word of the season: jolie-laide, French for “beautiful ugly.” Gone are the days when one could find a Yves Saint Laurent dress on the red carpet, hugging the body of a Hollywood siren; the new Saint Laurent is manufactured for the effortlessly cool it-girl.