Will Saint Laurent Stagnate Post-Slimane?
In March of 2012, Yves Saint Laurent made the controversial choice of appointing Hedi Slimane as the house’s new creative director. YSL had seen dwindling profits compared to other houses owned by Kering group and boldly decided to bring the former creative director of Dior on board; a hail-mary attempt to inject some life into the waning label. While his reign at the house was contentious, it is impossible to overlook the overall impact his vision had on the house and subsequently on the realm of fashion. Under Slimane’s rule, a series of radical sweeping changes were made. Yves was dropped from the name in favor of the sleeker moniker, Saint Laurent Paris. Archaic designs were phased out for garments that had rebellious but still accessible styling- Chelsea boots, biker jackets and ultra slim fitting denim became the new staples of the once ailing brand. Although Slimane dropped RTW collections that towed on the line of safe, his ability to create a highly accessible but still luxurious brand was unparalleled during his tenure. While these items were logo-less, they still became easily recognizable staples of what was considered “The SLP look”. With these drastic changes came an equally drastic surge in profits. In the fourth quarter of 2015, Saint Laurent Paris posted an increase in sales by a massive 37.4% margin.
Just as the label truly seemed to be turning over a page in its design history, Slimane departed the label. In an unceremonious departure rumored to be over financial compensation disagreements, SLP replaced Slimane with the much cheaper Anthony Vaccarello as the creative director. During the interim between the new designer’s first season, a temporary design team took over. This team, instead of choosing to continue to innovate the brand, chose to rehash staples of the Slimane era (Bikers, Wyatts etc.) and offer low effort branded shirts and shoes in an attempt to maintain brand relevancy. Even some of the most lux offerings of the interim design team’s season, such as the Bloodluster Biker Jacket, are simply Slimane’s designs shoddily transferred onto another Slimane design.
When looking at the era of Slimane SLP, each season carried distinctive designs and motifs that were recognizably Slimane. From the lace up leathers of his debut women’s collection in Spring 2013 to his luxurious and extravagant furs of Fall 2016, every season and pre-season show carried the spirit of teenage rebellion and the rockstar lifestyle. These rebellious and extravagant designs brought with them a heavily increased price-point for the brand; although sales of all garments experienced a meteoritic rise regardless. However, the team has chosen to embody a completely different mindset from his famed predecessor in the current seasons of Saint Laurent. Instead of actively attempting to innovate the brand at each season, this team chose to continue to release designs that are heavily derivative, if not outright copies, of Slimane. For every shearling and leather hoodie designed, a dozen shoddily constructed and designed graphic tees and sweatshirts bearing phrases such as “Universite Saint Laurent” were excreted onto the market.
Branding is the most important selling point in the fashion industry. Streetwear companies such as Supreme and Palace have reworked their iconic logos dozens of times a year to great success. An easily recognizable brand name serves as both a status symbol and a symbol of camaraderie, where one connoisseur of a brand is able to recognize another fan. For SLP during the wildly successful Slimane era, these forms of branding occupied a much subtler domain. Impeccable tailoring, forward thinking design and luxurious materials defined the Slimane Era of Saint Laurent. The differences between Saint Laurent Chelsea boots and the hundreds of copies created by other brands were the exact and precise vision for every component of the shoe that those less talented than Slimane failed to recognize. Even mid-tier brands such as Story et Fall were unable to make a Chelsea that was as easily recognizable and as well designed as Saint Laurent. Under Slimane, SLP became more than a clothing brand. The pieces released by him carried no logos but were recognizable miles away from the red carpet or mainstage of Coachella. When this design team chose to make heavily branded logos a staple of his seasons, their choices actively alienated the consumers that were initially drawn to the elegance and sophistication of Saint Laurent.
When looking at the debut season of this design team, in comparison to these ideals of subtlety and cut above all, overt branding and cash grabbing seem to have become the new de rigueur for the label. Rather than focusing on expanding the legacy of Slimane by taking SLP to new heights, the team seems content to instead use Slimane’s Legacy as a way to make the easiest dollar possible. T-shirts adorned with “Saint Laurent” screenprinted in cursive are not innovative, releasing distressed Common Project Achilles with the phrase “Saint Laurent” shoddily stitched to the side paneling is not forward thinking, and dropping a parody of a college hoodie with your house’s name dashed across it is not creative. These designs do not reflect the legacy of SLP, the dedication to a luxury product, or the subtlety and nostalgia for rock culture that saved the label from going extinct. These designs reflect Kering group’s obliviousness of what brought SLP back into the limelight. While some items from the current season are indeed solid offerings that invoke the ideology of Saint Laurent Paris, these designs are resold versions of deigns that Slimane himself released during his residency.
When looking at the offerings of this season, it becomes evident that the green designer team lacks the vision and veracity of the former lord. Slimane recaptured and grew the fashion industry’s attention through a succession of innovative and controversial designs. These series of acclaimed seasons brought a new wave of hype and sales to the brand. The fashion industry has proven time and time again that it is a fickle beast, however. When a brand begins to stop innovating, attention begins to wane towards further seasons. While shifting from cognoscenti to a younger logo-obsessed demographic may keep SLP’s growing revenue safe for a few seasons, these are the exact moves that earn the antipathy and resentment of the Parisians fashion critics. These foolish moves will cause Saint Laurent Paris’s sales to fall over the next several years and will cause the house to return to its status as a relic of the fashion world if Vaccarello does not make an active effort to innovate and evolve the brand during his tenure.