Much can be said of Hedi Slimane’s Saint Laurent oeuvre. Accusations ran wild season after season, from ‘gutting the house’s legacy’, to his taste for thin models or ‘lack of originality’, with looks being labeled as ‘pulled from the street’. Despite the ongoing scrutiny Slimane received for every move he made, he kept course and succeeded in more than doubling revenues to the tune of about $787 million within three years. He made the industry sit up and shook dusty editors out of their chairs, allowing them to question the very nature and purpose of high-end fashion.
The challenge with luxury fashion in today’s meaning of the term, is that the brands are bigger and more important than the individuals behind them, neglecting the fact that brands are given their personality and meaning by the very people who make them. Herein seems to be a dialogue gap between designers and brand executives on one hand – and designers and editors on the other. YSL became YSL through the character and creative vision of its creator Yves Saint Laurent, who stood at its helm for 41 years, until his retirement in 2002. Chanel embodied the soul and vision of Coco Chanel- and what it is today is Karl Lagerfeld’s interpretation of what Chanel should be- which is entirely different from the original Chanel form, but Karl has had a long time to fine tune this and apply the changes he deemed necessary for the brand’s success.
Morale: Brands change with every new appointment. We can’t expect designers to give up their personal creative vision- developed through years of education and experience- to please big brand executives or magazine editors. And ultimately, there is something wrong with a system that expects from its creative directors to reshape brand identity in three or four years- given that the very namesakes of these traditional luxury houses had 25 to 40 years to develop their signature.
Hedi Slimane’s Saint Laurent oeuvre learns that there will always be critics- no matter what a designer decides to do. You could give in and change your collections to please them- but for every collection and every season, there are new critics lined up with a steady pen. As Jeremy Scott puts it beautifully “you don’t make clothes for the critics, but for people, your fans, those who will buy your clothes and wear them on the streets.” And this is what Slimane understood really well. He opened an era of accessible high fashion for a new generation that wants to wear his clothes, boys and girls dying to become the next Saint Laurent icons- regardless of what the mainstream media thought of it. It would have been interesting to see how his Saint Laurent aesthetic would have culminated in 10 or more years – a privilege most creative directors in fashion today don’t have, upon a few exceptions. Anthony Vaccarello, his possible successor at Saint Laurent, is expected to take forward what Hedi has built up, pursuing the unrealistic cycle we described here above.
Fashion is a weird industry, one that is too often misunderstood by outsiders and perhaps sometimes taken a little too serious by some of its insiders. From an editor’s point of view, we must never stop criticising, but we should prioritise where we point our criticism to and ask questions to produce deeper narratives. What is just another collection to you and me, is the result of someone’s creative process- six months of insane hours and hard labour- asking from us as spectators, to give constructive criticism, beyond an ‘I love it’ or ‘I hate it’.