By Anders Christian Madsen at i-D:
The cat’s out of the Saint Laurent bag: today Anthony Vaccarello starts work as creative director at the old Parisian maison, following in the footsteps of Hedi Slimane, whose departure was announced Friday. To industry insiders, the news hardly comes as a shock—the Slimane/Vaccarello exchange has been the worst kept secret in Paris since the men’s shows—but for the diehard fan clubs of Slimane and Vaccarello (and most importantly, Yves Saint Laurent) the rumors have been an acceptance curve of things to come. If Slimane, who took the ‘Yves’ out of ‘Saint Laurent’ and turned it into a huge commercial success story, was initially criticized for departing with the Parisian chic of the Yves Saint Laurent legacy and replacing it with his own brand of indie cool, Vaccarello’s reign at Saint Laurent bodes more in that same vein. That’s not to say they’re similar designers, however. With his sexy minimalism, the Belgian-Italian Vaccarello — who now leaves his design duties at Versus, the diffusion line of his mentor Donatella Versace, and puts his eponymous label on hiatus — associates more with the MTV pop scene of the 90s than the rock ‘n’ roll underground on which Slimane has always drawn.
Slimane and Vaccarello are both reserved designers — quiet, interview-shy, wary of the media — with very unreserved creative outlets. Their aesthetics, although totally different, both draw on an unapologetic idea of sex rooted in the ritz and glam of the 70s and 80s. From that point of departure, Slimane leans more towards a 60s sense of retro rock ‘n’ roll while Vaccarello has a leg on 90s territory. “I’m kind of nostalgic about that 90s period of sex, when sex didn’t used to be sex; when sex was different from the mood of the time,” he told i-D in an interview last year. “In the 90s, when Madonna did the Sex book—which I’m obsessed with—or Tom Ford did a sexy collection, it was super strong.” The question on everyone’s mind now is if Vaccarello will go the Slimane route and continue the sales success that is Saint Laurent — something that should be relatively easy, his own aesthetic considered — or if he will rebrand and revert the house back to its former Parisian chic, less aggressively rock ‘n’ roll than Slimane and dreamier; more romantic, more Yves.
Like Slimane, Vaccarello represents a new type of designer effortlessly in touch with pop culture and digital youth culture. But at 34, he belongs to a younger generation than Slimane — who is now 47 — and could therefore be said to be more innately in touch with his peer segment of fashion consumers, who are growing into the buying power of 30-somethings. Rather than indie bands and underground scenes, Vaccarello’s fans are into Madonna and Mariah Carey in the 90s, Kate Moss in Calvin Klein ads, and the whole teen culture that went with it. Like him, they grew up on MTV, Beverly Hills, 90210, Naomi Campbell, Michael Jordan, Bill and Hillary, and a budding digital world of which they were the first kids to take ownership. The codes of that generation break couldn’t be more dissimilar to the universe of Slimane, and with the spirit of Vaccarello’s generation also comes a nostalgic outlook that could see the Yves in Saint Laurent interpreted in a much more romantic way. Most of all, Vaccarello’s idea of sexy dramatically differentiates from that of Slimane’s super skinny, often-androgynous approach.
As Vaccarello told i-D on the subject of mannish tailoring and the masculinification of the female form in 2015: “It’s sad, and it’s strange, because they’ll always have boobs, they’ll always have a pussy, but maybe it’s a way of protecting themselves.” If Saint Laurent continues as Saint Laurent — as opposed to Yves Saint Laurent — which is likely due to the extensive rebranding that Kering invested in Saint Laurent during Slimane’s tenure, Vaccarello’s work there could well be an interpretation of the agenda Slimane set for the revamped brand, which wouldn’t go against history. When Kris Van Assche took over from Slimane at the LVMH-owned Dior Homme in 2006, the profile Slimane had created for the brand remained in place—just with a new designer. And this year Van Assche celebrates his ten-year anniversary at the helm of Dior Homme. For Kering, which owns Saint Laurent, the Vaccarello appointment is the latest bet in an exciting strategy of chance hires, which has been working wonders for their brands.
Last year belonged to Alessandro Michele at Gucci, who started a revolution of new opulence and gender-fluidity that might have been the most important in fashion since Slimane gave us Dior Homme. This year belongs to Kering’s other golden boy, Demna Gvasalia, who had the industry in the palm of his hand when he presented his first Balenciaga show in March. Whether for better or for worse, Slimane changed the face of Yves Saint Laurent in the seven seasons he was there — and shook up fashion doing it — and it cannot be said enough how impressive his makeover of the house over those four years was. Like he did it at Dior Homme, Slimane managed to produce garments everyone wanted to wear, whether you were Harry Styles, the local barman, or some boardroom power-dresser. And he gained the sky-high sales to prove it. In that sense, Anthony Vaccarello has some pretty big suede boots to fill. When it comes to picking designers right now, though, trust that Kering is on a roll.