I was incredibly excited for Hedi Slimane’s debut for the house of Yves Saint Laurent this week at Paris Fashion Week (I may have even sneaked a peek at the livestreaming show at work- shhhh). The press build-up of the YSL show in competition with the debut Dior show by Raf Simons was one of the hottest stories of this season. Below, one of my idols, Cathy Horyn of the New York Times, tells us why she feels Slimane fell short this season.
(New York Times) The house that Yves Saint Laurent founded with Pierre Berge has a new, punchier name and a new designer — Hedi Slimane — but in many ways it’s the same old French label.
On Monday night, after much buildup and intrigue (a YSL tradition) Mr. Slimane presented his first women’s collection for Saint Laurent. Among the roughly 400 guests at the Grand Palais some would have recognized the visual effects from Mr. Slimane’s shows for Dior Homme, where he worked from 2000 to 2007. The space was darkened, and there was a blaze of concert-style lighting and loud music. Before Mr. Slimane got to Dior, he designed menswear for YSL, where he built a reputation for dynamic, fast-paced shows with spindly youths, and for being connected to the art and music scenes in Berlin and London. Lately, Mr. Slimane, who is also a photographer, has been living in Los Angeles.
Mr. Slimane’s Dior shows always had a superstar quality, in part because so many music and film stars were packed into his front row. Karl Lagerfeld was also part of the fabric of that era — literally, in a slim-fitting Dior suit — and he sat near Bernard Arnault, the chairman of LVMH. Mr. Lagerfeld did not attend Mr. Slimane’s comeback. He was in the Chanel studio doing fittings.
A similar air of exclusivity — or exclusion — pervaded Monday night’s event. The front row was filled with VIPs, including Mr. Berge, to whom Mr. Slimane dedicated the collection (the seat cards said so), and Betty Catroux, a friend and muse of Mr. Saint Laurent’s. There was also a smattering of star photographers, editors and models, like Kate Moss. But many front-row editors, to their disgruntlement, were given second- and third-row seats, and some, including an editor from Le Monde, had to stand. While a lot of journalists don’t really care where they sit, the lack of professional courtesy smacked of ignorance or arrogance.
I was not invited. Despite positive reviews of his early YSL and Dior collections, as well as a profile, Mr. Slimane objected bitterly to a review I wrote in 2004 — not about him but Raf Simons. Essentially I wrote that without Mr. Simons’s template of slim tailoring and street casting, there would not have been a Hedi Slimane — just as there would never have been a Raf Simons without Helmut Lang. Fashion develops a bit like a genetic line.
Anyway, Mr. Slimane insisted that he was the first to show the skinny suit. It was a silly debate. Who cares? As time went on, he also felt (as best as I can tell) that I gave preference to Mr. Simons in my coverage of the men’s shows. If I gave him attention, it was because his work and my reporting into the key early part of his career merited it. I haven’t spoken to Mr. Slimane in five years.
When I raised the invitation matter with his boss, Francois-Henri Pinault, the chief executive of PPR, which owns Saint Laurent, Mr. Pinault expressed dismay. “That’s ridiculous,” he said. “Journalists should be invited to shows.” Quite so. But I suspected that Mr. Pinault was in a jam. Having given Mr. Slimane much authority to remake Saint Laurent, he could scarcely take it away from him.
My opinion, then, of his first collection is based on digital images, which anyone can see. Mr. Slimane picked up some big, early themes of the house — the tuxedo (now tightened up, with the jacket shrunken like a busboy’s, a style he did at Dior), the fringed suede, the caftans, floppy hats and other bohemian trappings that evoke for many people the late ’60s and early ’70s.
And that was the problem: the collection was a nice but frozen vision of a bohemian chick at the Chateau Marmont. Or in St. Tropez. Mr. Slimane’s clothes lacked a new fashion spirit. Indeed, it was as though he refused to interpret the YSL style, beyond updating proportions. Even the colors seemed flat, suppressed. Of course, in the past two decades, a host of designers and vintage-minded stylists have successfully traded on the look.
Considering that Mr. Slimane was an avatar of youthful style, I expected more from this debut. I had the impression from the clothes of someone disconnected from fashion of the past several years. If so, that might be an interesting perspective. But there wasn’t something new to learn here. Also, the self-important air of Saint Laurent’s media relations — the calls informing reporters that Mr. Slimane wouldn’t be taking questions backstage — is out of touch. Meanwhile, its competitors— Balenciaga, Dior, Givenchy, Celine, Lanvin — are having a terrific season.