Scanning the show reports following the Saint Laurent SS20 presentation at Paris Fashion Week on Tuesday, it was the absence of any reference to former creative director Hedi Slimane’s tenure at the house that particularly caught my attention. And while this may seem rather disingenuous to the brand’s current creative head, the distinct lack of any mention of his predecessor is actually a reflection of how over the past couple of years, Anthony Vaccarello has managed to prove many naysayers wrong, and successfully put his own spin on Slimane’s commercially successful interpretation of the YSL aesthetic.
Befitting of a brand that exudes rock ‘n’ roll glamour, hot pants dominated the first half of the show, and styled with an array of plunging v-neck shirts, plush velvet jackets and swishing trench coats, the pairings created a new Saint Laurent take on the shorts suit. And although for many of us, it may be difficult to imagine adopting this look literally, it’s the ‘how’ rather than the ‘what’ was worn – the attitude and swagger of the models and not so subtle styling details – that we can comfortably buy into.
In addition to further honing the house’s contemporary DNA, Vaccarello also paid homage to some of its classic styles. The middle section of the show illustrated the brand’s softer side, with turban-clad models in gold paisley embroidered dresses, chiffon blouses and pleated lamé skirts bringing a reimagined version of Yves Saint Laurent’s romantic 1976 Russian collection to a new generation.
For the finale, the designer sent out myriad versions of Le Smoking. This timeless piece was cut into cropped, mid-riff-skimming boleros and an elongated tailcoat, as well as everything in between. But what made them modern was the liberal use of sequins, each incarnation lighting up the runway.
Helming an iconic brand with a rich heritage can be a boon for designers, who have access to an extensive archive to mine. But it can also be a challenge to continually riff on past glories while simultaneously taking a brand forward. In assuming the creative director role at Saint Laurent, Anthony Vaccarello not only had Yves’ legacy to respect, but the commercial success of Hedi Slimane’s take on the brand to try and maintain. However, he certainly seems to have hit his stride this season, delivering a collection that was as fresh as it was familiar.
The challenge faced by Vaccarello, and other designers in his position, is one that many of us face as we hone our own personal style. We like clothes and brands that feel familiar to us, and reflect who we are, and introducing fresh looks to expand our repertoire can often fail, sometimes spectacularly, if we step too far outside of our comfort zone. Saint Laurent’s sexy-bitchy low-on-agreeableness woman is never going to be in a floral frock. And as in Vaccarello's case, it's often small steps that can bring rich rewards, those that successfully strike that delicate sartorial and psychological balance.