“Euphoric” and “erotic” – this is how one might describe Anthony Vaccarello‘s resort 2022 collection for Saint Laurent. It’s not only because you can imagine nearly every “Euphoria” character (have you seen the first episode of season 2? Mind-blowing!) wearing all the YSL feathers and sexy, body-conscious silhouettes to their quite dramatic parties (actually, Maddy would perfectly pull it off to school). The collection is totally hedonist and free-spirited, both wearable and spotlight-stealing. There’s a terrific, go-with-the-flow vibe going on here, all high-waisted, floor-sweeping flares, flower power sequins, and hippie headbands. There’s also a confident, palpable sense of sexual empowerment, with LBDs and not so little LBDs bearing all manner of cut-outs and cut-aways, breast-veiling, and other forms of transparency. The model casting also has a message – how smart of Vaccarello to showcase much of this on his long-time friend and house icon Anja Rubik, who has become a fearless advocate for women’s sexual and reproductive rights back home in her native Poland. The collection also mirrors how much the identity of the YSL women was forged through menswear. There’s definitely a heady whiff of those androgynous days when Yves Saint Laurent and muse Betty Catroux shared the same plunge-front shirted, narrow-hipped tailored approach to getting dressed. That was back in the late ’60s/early ’70s, an era iconic to YSL, in which gender fluidity was just one way the old order was rightly collapsing from the challenges thrown down by emancipation, counter-culture, and more bohemian ways of living. Vaccarello isn’t the type to talk endlessly about politics in his work, if ever, but politics are there, without a doubt. What he’s offering here is a clear and confident vision of dressing for a world today that’s equally in flux.
We are in Paris, baby! Paris Fashion Week started with a bang, all thanks to Saint Laurent which returned to the usual schedule. There was a magical moment towards the end of the spring-summer 2022 show when Anthony Vaccarello’s towering waterfall structure rained softly on his guests’ faces as the last models made their way off the runway to Zimmz’s entrancing “Eclipse”, the Eiffel Tower twinkling in the distance. “I was kind of sick of listening to all those people talking about the future of fashion. For me, we just had to switch off. That was it,” Vaccarello said before the show, recalling his early lockdown decision to leave the Paris schedule.“I knew that once the pandemic would become a little bit better, it would be impossible to totally change this way of showing. It’s part of fashion.” Picking up where he left off – the autumn-winter 2020 latex collection that hardly needs a recap – Vaccarello put his softer, more pragmatic collections of the lockdown period behind him, and forged ahead with the look he believes in for a 2020s wardrobe. “For me, this collection is the continuation of the latex collection: it’s a style that I want to establish,” he told Vogue. “The latex collection was a liberating collection for me. I was feeling free. I didn’t have anything to prove to anyone else about what I was able to do for Saint Laurent. I relate that collection to the Scandal collection of Paloma.” The collection in question was Yves Saint Laurent’s 1971 tribute to Paloma Picasso, who wasn’t one of his most famous muses but one of the most influential ones, nonetheless. “Pierre Bergé told me that Paloma Picasso was the only woman who inspired a collection for Yves Saint Laurent,” Vaccarello said. We tend to always talk about Betty Catroux and Catherine Deneuve, but Paloma was the only one who really changed Yves Saint Laurent’s perception of fashion, Vaccarello explained. “Before, he was really into couture – really into this cute, very perfect silhouette – and when he met her, with her huge red lips, dressed in vintage, she was really new for him. It changed his own style. In my mind, I want to have the same change after the pandemic.” His instinct made for a spirited collection that amplified the signatures of Picasso’s look. The shoulders of jackets broadened into rigorous silhouettes, the necklines and slits of dresses grew closer together, and leggings and jumpsuits – some wrapped glamorously around the contours of the body – proposed a new take on eveningwear for the post-pandemic decade. Curiously, in a scantily clad season that’s coined the “new sexy”, Vaccarello’s collection was decidedly covered-up for a Vaccarello collection – something the skin-tightness of it all balanced back into sensual territory. What does a designer known for legs and miniskirts make of this “new sexy”? “I hate the sexy I see. It looks like the sexy I did 10 years ago,” he quipped. “Everyone can do sexy, but for me it’s about assuming what you are, not trying to seduce others. It’s being confident in what you are. Paloma is very sexual but not the kind of woman you want to mess with. You wouldn’t bother her in the street, for example.” Perhaps that was Vaccarello’s 1990s sensibility talking: the mindset of a boy raised on the sophistication of supermodels, immaculate music videos, and an approach to sex that felt a lot more intelligent than that of the 2000s, a decade many designers are referencing this season.
With Venice’s winding lanes and piazzas relatively empty, not exactly overwhelmed with visitors, an army of very slender wraiths, confettied with tattoos, bristling with attitude, and wafting around the city’s fabled landscape, seemed even more conspicuous. These proved to be the (extra, extra skinny) models and brand icons of Anthony Vaccarello’s Saint Laurent, in town to walk the runway in the designer’s collection. In keeping with the city’s current focus on the possibilities of architecture, Vaccarello collaborated with the genre defying artist and filmmaker Doug Aitken (who won the International Prize at the 1999 Venice Biennale) on an environment to showcase his collection. Aitken created Green Lens, an amazing mirror-faceted structure that was assembled in a month on the Isola della Certosa, and planted with hot house jungle greenery. It serves as a response to the question posed by the Biennale, harmoniously blending futurism with the natural landscape. “All the sets of Saint Laurent I’ve always done myself in a way,” Vaccarello explained, at the magical post-show dinner set in the roofless ruin of an old brick structure on the island, “so it was nice to share a concept for the first time with an artist who I truly admire, and it was fun. That concept was supposed to be for the women’s show last year,” Vaccarello added, “and because of the pandemic we pushed it to now. In the end it made more sense to have it in Venice than in Paris, especially with the Architecture Biennale – and with that collection, which is a mix of a lot of influence of Saint Laurent and a lot of Venetian ‘New Romanticism.’ Not putting them into the historical, classical Venetian way, but in a futuristic environment. I think after COVID you want to look more into the future than the past – and I like that mix of the past in the references in the clothes, and the future in the setting.” During the fast-paced show the structure reflected the blue skies, dusk light, and dappled lagoon waters while Aitken’s lighting transformed the mood from moment to moment, suggesting by turns a flaming sunset or a glacial blue Scandinavian dawn. Refracted in those mirrors, Vaccarello’s tribe strode forth in lean jackets or billowing piratical blouses, and cigarette-leg pants with winkle picker ankle boots extending the slender silhouette further still. In a timely reversal of the endless womenswear borrowings from the traditional men’s wardrobe, Vaccarello also had fun exploring the unparalleled Saint Laurent archives for women’s wear pieces that could be appropriated by the guys, including jacquard crepe de chine blouses and shirts from the early ’70s, cropped toreador jackets and spencers from Picasso line-up, and a padded brocade bolero from the China collection reimagined as a bomber and worn with black jeans, as well as a number of variations on Le Smoking. In homage to the host city there was Venetian carnival drama too in the dramatic billowing capes, including one in brilliant yellow silk that evoked a faille example shown in Saint Laurent’s autumn-winter 1983 haute couture show. “I think it was fun to see how a young guy could assume it,” said Vaccarello of his gender fluid propositions, “And I have to say they assumed it very naturally, [whether] a lace shirt, or platform shoes.” With this most convincing menswear line-up to date coming from the designer, hope to see more of such moments coming from Vacarrello in the future.
Anthony Vaccarello’s autumn-winter 2021 Saint Laurent collection was all about contrasts: luxury and kitsch, polished and raw, elegance and trash. There was even a stark contrast between the sultry clothes the designer delivered and the (rather very) windy runway venue. Against the most jaw-dropping of backdrops (of what looked like Iceland), with ice glaciers, crashing waves, and a volcanic, black beach, Vaccarello’s girls, looking like badass rock chicks, are shown striding as if on some fantastic odyssey. “When I was thinking about this collection, I had this place in mind, like a movie director,” Vaccarello said on a call to preview his collection. “It’s the idea of a girl in a landscape where she doesn’t belong. I knew I wanted a wintry location,” he went on to say, “one which showed how strong nature is; how we are really nothing next to it, how ephemeral we are. It’s not a place where anyone is going skiing, but Saint Laurent should do something that’s like a dream: What the F?! Why is she there?” The question of why this winter’s Saint Laurent woman is indeed there is left hanging somewhere in the movie’s moody overcast skies. Every season Vaccarello’s exploration of the YSL archive has a welcome air of mystery to it; there has never been any literal, first-degree rehashing of the back catalog’s greatest hits on his watch. This time round, he was drawn to Monsieur Saint Laurent’s classically elegant mid ’60s tailleurs rendered in menswear fabrics. He ratcheted up the cool factor by cutting the jackets lean and sinuous and then matching the length of their hems to his very-mini-skirts. Then he swapped out Saint Laurent’s then preferred monochromatic palette with a fabulously opulent and in your face array of violet, cobalt, gold, and chartreuse: “It’s the shapes of the ’60s with the colors of the ’80s,” Vaccarello said by way of explanation. Finishing the looks off, he slipped gleaming metallic stretch bodysuits or the tiniest of leather miniskirts under the tailoring. Then he loaded up on the bijoux – chandelier earrings, strasse bracelets, and chokers with a four-leaf-clover motif, something else sourced from the archive. It would be remiss not to mention the ultra-long leather boots or the wickedly pointy metal-tipped heels. Watching Mica Argañaraz navigate a stony cliff edge in them gives a whole new meaning to the appellation “rock goddess.” Also, she really seemed not to care for the cold, breezy wind. “I am doing things for the present; I don’t know what the future will be,” said Vaccarello on the subject of re-emergence fashion. “I want Saint Laurent to be more light and playful, but… it’s not just about going out to bars and parties. Life can’t just be when it’s bad we are all in black and pajamas and when it’s good we are in slutty dresses. After the last couple of years we can’t just go back, otherwise we will lose what we all lived through.” In other words, when you helm a house which has long had a reputation for both exuberance and chicness, how do you take it forward in a very big world? You let the fashion fly, but also keep it down to earth. “Fashion should be something you don’t take too seriously,” he continued. “Especially now, when nothing is really necessary. It’s good to laugh about life.”
I loved Anthony Vaccarello‘s spring-summer 2021 collection for Saint Laurent. It was an exercise in ultimate chic, an escape from lockdown dressing as we know it. And the guest-less fashion show itself was a visual feast. The hypnotic film by longtime creative accomplice Nathalie Canguilhem of models walking in a snaking single file across striated sandbanks in… well, who knows where, exactly? On a call with Vaccarello a few days ago, he wasn’t letting on. It’s worth noting that the panoramic vista as far as the eye can see performed a similar trick here as it did in February: an uninterrupted backdrop the better to showcase his new streamlined silhouette. The line-up was surprisingly soft, hard edges rounded off, save for the punk-ish haircuts of the models. There’s a general air of relaxing, sometimes even playfulness – but nothing too loose. The months of life in and out of lockdown with the attendant desire for clothes with ease and softness didn’t leave Vaccarello untouched. “With everything that was going on in the world, I wanted something softer, warmer,” he said during that phone call from Paris. “I’ve never really done ‘comfortable’ before.” He found his answer to how to approach it by delving into the YSL archives, alighting in his usual resolutely left-field and non-historicist way on the fluid, pliable jersey dressing that Saint Laurent did in 1968. But the ultimate, refined loungewear was my my favourite here: sheer kaftan gowns and flou dresses, all of them denuded of any details, save for the accessories that accompany them: a hothouse bloom tied close to the throat via a leather thong, razor-sharp slingback heels and reissued versions of Claude Lalanne’s jewellery. Vaccarello’s success here is in answering the more intimate mood of the moment; being able to connect a house whose foundations rest on a particular brand of high-octane cool glamour – a very external expression of self – with our current deep inner need for ease and solace. Even his nods to the ’60s -they also include some very Valley of the Dolls florals and marabou negligee dressing, glorious exercises in kitsch, but just enough; and those geometric updates of the classic Vidal Sassoon five-point cut – aren’t nostalgic rehashes. Instead, it’s a wish to connect that decade’s optimism with his own sense of positivity; a sense that one can start looking again to the future. And who can blame him? By the time this collection is available to buy, Vaccarello will be celebrating the milestone of his fifth anniversary at the house. “I’m not the guy I was when I first came here,” he said. “I am more sure of myself.” So too it seems is the woman he has in his mind’s eye. “She was maybe more seductive when she started,” he said, “but now she has grown up. She has much less to prove.” It’s getting better and better!