How to Rebuild a French God: Hedi Slimane Shakes Up Yves Saint Laurent

Chloe Reis

Saint Laurent, Yves Saint Laurent

imagesYou would’ve had to be living under a fashion rock to not be up to date on the branding switch-up at YSL.  Why would one of the worlds most iconic fashion labels change a perfectly good and identifiable brand? Especially when that brand is the namesake of a designer who is the equivalent of a French God.  Who, you may ask, would make such a bold decision? None other than Hedi Slimane.

This isn’t Slimane’s first run with YSL. He was the creative director in 1997 when he reintroduced us to the skinny fit with the re-launch of the YSL Rive Gauche Homme collection. Gucci group acquired YSL for $1 billion in 1999, at which point Slimane left for Dior, where he became a celebrated name in his own right. Slimane took their men’s line and translated it seamlessly to a younger and more fashion-conscious crowd. When LVMH refused him his own collection, he packed up and moved to Los Angeles to pursue photography, only to be coaxed back to YSL in 2012.

 The Original Pant Suit Aficionado


I have always appreciated looking at the ways in which art mirrors life, and vice versa, and so my infatuation with Yves Saint Laurent is longstanding. In 1966, Yves introduced “Le smoking” – a smart and sophisticated new women’s tuxedo that stuck out like a sore thumb in juxtaposition to the fashion status quo of the 60s. Liberated and confident young woman were making a statement that warranted great critique and scorn from their male counterparts – it embodied so much more than a fashion trend. To solidify his title as fashion’s enfant terrible, he launched one of the first successful ready-to-wear lines and labeled it Saint Laurent Rive Gauche.

This Ain’t your Grandma’s Cashmere Sweater

Fast forward a few decades and it appears Slimane is trying to recapture the quintessence of that movement – this time under the banner of Saint Laurent Paris. He intends to pay homage to YSL’s innovative roots in a modern way.  When I first heard the announcement I was shocked, but cautiously optimistic. I looked forward to watching Slimane take an aging brand and turn it on its head, and the marketing campaign that would inevitably ensue. Cue Helvetica fonts, lots of leather, and advertisements featuring fashion’s darling Cara Delevigne. Why not throw in Marilyn Manson, just for good measure.

Hate it or Love it

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Unfortunately, the hype surrounding the rebranding has been met with mixed reviews. Slimane’s first few collections faced harsh criticism. For most, it wasn’t so much a brand overhaul, as a splash of All Saints grunge with a YSL price tag. The new look certainly appeals to my aesthetic, but I feel it lacks vision. It is certainly not what I expect from Saint Laurent. Least of all, it’s not what I hoped would grow from the rebranding. Whatever the concern, there is no denying the collections have been economically successful. Slimane has positioned his new look as one that is accessible, in a time where the backlash against conspicuous consumption has many luxury retailers toning down their collections to appease the changing tastes of their consumers. The people at Kering are definitely expecting the YSL rebranding to be a driving force in catapulting their luxury earning to new heights, and Slimane is doing exactly what they want – overhauling the storefronts, the collection, and courting controversy.

As I flipped through the pages of Vogue, I couldn’t help but like the Saint Laurent spread. It was youthful, fun, and artfully executed. In my opinion, Slimane is just what the doctor ordered. Despite my optimism and adoration for the man, only time will tell if these moves will pay off long term. But here is some food for thought; In 1971, one of Yves’ collections caused an absolute scandal in the fashion community. In talking with Vogue backstage, he was quoted as saying “What I want to do is shock. Sometimes it takes something shocking to create change. And sometimes it takes the ugliest show in town to change the face of fashion.” 

Regardless of what you think of Slimane’s debut collections, there is no doubt that he has people talking.