Saint Laurent gets a good rap

Hedi Slimane’s name became a pop culture staple last year when Kanye West unintentionally gave the designer free publicity by disclosing that he’d been banned from attending other fashion shows during Paris fashion week if he wanted to be feted at the Saint Laurent show.
West was pissed and seized every opportunity he could find to talk about Slimane – from BBC radio interviewers to concert-goers at Madison Square Park. Unknowingly, the rapper made Hedi Slimane’s popularity skyrocket, and those who didn’t know his name, now do. Result – sales at Saint Laurent up 42% for 2013 compared to the year before, making the brand one of Kering’s star performers and helping Francois-Henri Pinault to cover some of the gap in profits created by Gucci’s dismal performance.

Slimane’s name has long been known amongst the fashion elite. He has worked with Louis Vuitton, headed up Dior Homme, and has dressed and designed for the likes of Brad Pitt, Daft Punk, and David Bowie. Yet Slimane has generally shied away from the celebrity lifestyle that other designers have embraced, choosing rather to be an observer and documenter of the burgeoning creative scene from his current home base of Los Angeles. This distance has paid dividends in all his work for Saint Laurent (He insisted on the name change from YSL to the brand’s current moniker).

The city of angels play muse to Slimane’s creativity, as the casual, rock-n-roll look that is all too familiar with young Hollywood defines YSL’s Spring Summer 2014 Collection which is currently in stores. What is particularly appealing about this collection (which I saw in Shanghai last week at the brand’s monster store in the Reel mall) is how Slimane chooses to add a hint of femininity by injecting an echo of eighties disco into the design of his dresses, as evidenced by a one shoulder asymmetrical dress with a quintessential 80s puff sleeve, and a bright pink sequinned dress which looked like something Debbie Harry would have rocked for a night out in Studio 54. The gorgeous I’m-looking-away-because-I-am-far-too-cool-to-look-at-you black and white photographs by Slimane that dominate the store’s windows are helping to make product fly out of the store – in the Jing’an district Saint Laurent’s distinctive white bags have become ubiquitous on the arms of 20-something Shanghainese.

Despite the overall theme of rock-n-roll, the current in-store collection stays true to Saint Laurent’s original brand identity through the inclusions of tastefully constructed suit jackets and signature pant suits for the more androgynously inclined. While Yves Saint Laurent was known for making ready-to-wear pieces reputable in a world where designers were obsessed with couture, the wear-ability of the Spring Summer 2014 collection looks best on very thin members of the fashionable set in their twenties and early thirties. This is perhaps a result of Slimane drawing inspiration from the never ageing playground that is Los Angeles.

Later this week Saint Laurent’s Fall Winter 2014/15 women’s wear show will be one of the hottest tickets in Paris as the fashion world waits to see if Slimane can sustain the brand’s dazzling double-digit growth. He should remember the one immutable laws of fashion and cooking — nothing stays hot forever.

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