Will Musicians Stick With Yves Saint Laurent After Hedi Slimane's Exit?

Lionel Hahn/Sipa USA
Hedi Slimane attends the Saint Laurent show at The Hollywood Palladium on Feb. 10, 2016 in Los Angeles.

Changing the creative director of a fashion house is a big risk. Sometimes the change can inject new energy into a brand and broadly expand its customer base, as Alessandro Michele’s appointment at Gucci did (where sales are up 5.4 percent year-over-year to $2.1 billion in the first half of 2016). At other times it can damage a house’s reputation and alienate existing clients, sending sales into a tailspin.

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On Sept. 27, the opening night of Paris Fashion Week, the house of Saint Laurent introduced the world to its new creative director, 37-year-old Belgian-Italian Anthony Vaccarello. As the former head designer at Versace diffusion line Versus, as well as the founder of his eponymous label, Vaccarello and his signature slit skirts were already familiar to most in the audience. They knew, then, that they were about to see a different Saint Laurent than that of his predecessor, Hedi Slimane. During his four-year directorship, Slimane did much to align the brand with the rock-music community and aesthetic, casting Kim Gordon and Marilyn Manson in his campaigns and inviting obscure local bands to walk his runways. “Hedi just knows what rock’n’roll looks and feels like,” says friend Courtney Love. “He has an aesthetic, without it being lame.” Slimane also sent sales for the house skyrocketing north of $1 billion in 2015, following year-over-year growth of more than 20 percent from 2012 to 2014, according to Sanford C. Bernstein analyst Mario Ortelli.

With a new designer at the helm — one whose supermodel friends often serve as muses — many have been left to wonder: Will Vaccarello build on Saint Laurent’s newly cemented music identity or take the brand in a whole new direction?

A Rock’n’Roll Heritage

Founder Yves Saint Laurent, who died in 2008, made some notable contributions to music -history, casting androgynous singer Grace Jones in his shows and, most famously, dressing Mick and Bianca Jagger in his-and-her suits for their 1971 wedding. But the brand had little to do with rock’n’roll until Slimane arrived in 2012, dropping Yves from the house’s name (which wasn’t well received by YSL purists) and moving the design studio from Paris to Los Angeles. During his time there, he copied, courted and dressed the denizens of the city’s indie-rock scene, making the faces of Love and Sky Ferreira synonymous with the brand. He photographed them, and many of their peers, for a “Rock Diary” on his personal website, and played Liza Thorn’s “Call From Paris” on the company’s relaunched website. Another Slimane signature: reclusiveness. Aside from a 2015 interview with Yahoo, he was virtually untouchable by the press and wasn’t shy about banning journalists from his front row. (New York’s Cathy Horyn was among those not permitted.)

A who’s who of the music world showed up at his final show at the Palladium in Hollywood in February, including Love, Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, Lenny and Zoe Kravitz, and Beck.

Staying the Course 

Shortly after Slimane left Saint Laurent in March, citing a failure to agree on a new contract with executives from YSL parent company Kering, the brand wiped its entire Instagram backlog. But those who were concerned that Vaccarello, who has dressed Jennifer Lopez, Taylor Swift and Miley Cyrus, would entirely ignore Slimane’s contributions to the house needn’t have. Vaccarello, who declined to comment for this article, debuted a collection aligned with his sexy aesthetic but also an edgy and music-inspired one. A draped, one-shoulder dress in gold lamé conjured disco, while a leather mini dress, cut to expose a single breast covered in a sequined pasty, called to mind Cyrus and Lil’ Kim.

“There will be a shift [in direction] but, for the most part, [Vaccarello’s debut lineup] will appeal to the Hedi Saint Laurent customer,” says Ferreira’s stylist, Ian Bradley.

Banking On Roots?

One sign that Vaccarello is not looking to alienate fans and, more importantly, customers? Sitting front row at his show was French singer Lou Doillon, who was with her mother, Jane Birkin (a YSL loyalist who wore the designer in the ’70s and was also photographed by Slimane), and sister, Charlotte Gainsbourg. Doillon has already appeared in campaigns for both Slimane’s Saint Laurent and Vaccarello’s own label.

Notably, Vaccarello has reintroduced the Y in YSL, which was displayed prominently in the form of a huge neon sign outside his show. But the rock’n’roll pull is strong and financially smart, which explains why Vaccarello’s floor-length, high-slit gowns were nowhere to be seen. “Music is so much a part of fashion right now,” says Los Angeles-based stylist/boutique owner Elyse Walker, whose clients include Kate Hudson and Cindy Crawford. “I had never seen Anthony do that before.” 

This article originally appeared in the Oct. 15 issue of Billboard.