Remembrance of Yves Past

A Saint Laurent opening has always been a red-letter day in French high fashion. Hedi Slimane’s premiere Saint Laurent collection, shown last night, was no exception. It was the hottest ticket of the entire spring/summer 2013 season. The show will no doubt please YSL purists; but, as a fashion statement, it had nothing new to say. It was rather like a greatest hits parade of the beloved couturier’s most iconic collections, namely Saint Laurent’s eponymous “Ballets Russes” collection of 1976 and the Spanish gypsies of 1977, thrown in with see-through blouses culled from 1968 for shock value. (Slimane need not have bothered showing them, for they no longer have any shock value left. Monsieur Saint Laurent’s controversial and often plagiarized sheer blouses seemed shocking back in 1968 when he first showed them with Bermuda shorts, but for 2013 they look merely vulgar.)
The bulk of Slimane’s “Saint Laurent Paris” show—as he has chosen to call the brand, eradicating the elegant “Yves”—consisted of slim capri (if they can be called that) pants worn with a multitude of suede vests and jackets that, at first glance, remind one of Tom Ford’s mid-'90s shows for Gucci, when that designer found it useful to borrow ideas from Saint Laurent’s illustrious repertoire years before he became creative director of YSL. Slimane, a former Dior Homme designer based in L.A., has had no previous experience in womenswear. It showed. The whole collection had the look of a design student's graduation show, laboring to assert his style. Though Slimane emphasized Saint Laurent’s fascination with folkloric dressing, he ignored one major aspect of his vocabulary: color. Slimane’s somber palette was limited to black, brown, and beige. The evening ensembles reeked of nostalgia, and not the most flattering of aromas, either. Worn with floppy fedoras that have seen better days, the finale consisted of swirling capes and flowing dresses that evoked both Saint Laurent muse Talitha Getty and his passion for Moroccan garb. What's missing in Slimane’s rendition was Saint Laurent’s seemingly effortless mastery of draping. Slimane’s shapeless frocks appeared sloppy even on the most anoretically thin of models. Though this was a spring show, a dark, autumnal air seemed to permeate the Grand Palais where the show was held. Viewing the collection online, one can sense that the venue had no ambiance or mood to complement the clothes. The models had none of the womanly elegance that Saint Laurent mannequins such as Mounia and Kirat exemplified to perfection in the 1980s. 
Three designers have already tackled the demanding Saint Laurent mantle—Lanvin’s Alber Elbaz had a brief stint in 1999, followed by Ford in 2000, preceeded by Stefano Pilati in 2004, each of whom had a modicum of success that was hardly spectacular—only to be dismissed when their vision for the brand fizzled or failed to excite Saint Laurent aficionados. Slimane is the fourth designer to be given the job. Judging from the merits of this show, he has plenty of magic to perform if he intends to have the sacred house of Saint Laurent—essentially a twentieth-century establishment—prosper and flourish in the twenty-first.