Men’s – Mirage. Saint Laurent SS23

For spring-summer 2023 season, Anthony Vaccarello came up with his best menswear collection for Saint Laurent. The clothes were brilliant and absolutely desirable. Of course, the setting helped. Vaccarello had decamped to the Agafay desert, an hour or so out of Marrakech. It’s a city with real significance to Yves Saint Laurent the man (he had two homes here, most famously Villa Oasis, nestling beside the Majorelle Garden) and the brand (Marrakech is the location of the Musée Yves Saint Laurent). And then factor in the show’s mise en scène: an epic and haunting circular light show installation designed by artist and set designer Es Devlin, which rose up from a mirage pond, and was erected atop the moonlike terrain. Still, a cinematic setting doesn’t mean a whole lot if the clothes can’t live up to it. And here was Vaccarello’s master stroke: present a collection which he said, just before the show, was, “for the first time, my most personal. It’s maybe less, let’s say costume-y, than it could have been in the past.” Vaccarello looked back 20 years to when he was a student in Brussels at the La Cambre art school, a time when the tautly drawn lines of Belgian noir were omnipresent in fashion. It gave a defined tailored silhouette, to be sure, but one with a softness and a crumpled sense of being loveworn. Vaccarello took his own sartorial impulses from his earlier years – “it was how I dressed in 2000. It was a look that I loved, and I wanted to recreate that spirit; I was missing that” – and married them beautifully to the classic codes of YSL.

Trenchcoats came sharply shouldered but with a beguiling fluidity to their silhouette, cut with a barely perceptible flutter to them, in black wool or pliable glove-like leather. Lanky pants started high at the waist then fell into an easier, wider stride, some with a satin-y tux stripe running down the leg, or styled like jeans but cut from the most luscious of velvets, both often partnered with delicate gauzy tops that clung to the torso. The le smoking was a constant and compelling refrain here. Vaccarello had updated the classic tux, utilizing all the inherent fluidity of YSL’s beloved grain de poudre fabric, while others were cut from the slitheriest and slippiest of lounge lizard satins. He shaped his jackets with a judiciously judged jut to their shoulders, then might finish them off by having them clasp the body via their double-breasted or wrapover fastenings, drawing attention to a slenderized waist in the process. Sometimes though the newness came from something of the past. The flash of male décolleté – Vaccarello’s models sported almost to a man their jackets sans shirts – was something he’d picked up on from looking at how house icon Betty Catroux preferred to wear her tailoring back in the day. Again and again, look after look, it became clear that there was something about the pleasure of yielding to all of this, finding a place of comfort, of peace and of calm. It’s why, Vaccarello said, he’d chosen Marrakech. Not because he wanted to do a YSL in Morocco tribute collection, but because he understood that the city had been a place of solace and refuge for Monsieur Saint Laurent, in much the same way that Los Angeles has become a place of rest and recharge for himself.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

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NET-A-PORTER Limited

Being Dressed. Saint Laurent Pre-Fall 2022

I never gave up on being dressed, even when the trend was about sportswear,” says Saint Laurent’s Anthony Vaccarello of his pre-fall women’s collection, the until-now-unseen curtain raiser to his sublime and epic winter show, presented earlier this year. “I am glad that people want to dress up again, because for me nothing has changed.” Never let it be said that Vaccarello doesn’t have unerring instincts. When the rest of the world was letting it all hang out while being holed up at home, he was showing hyper-colored tweedy suits dripping with jewels on an icy tundra, or had marabou and pop-floral chiffon marching across a vast Sahara-like vista; big themes, big landscapes, big drama. In their way they were as much paeans to hope for the future as statements of intent about how you might want to dress in the present. Except change was to a degree part of the narrative: Vaccarello also took on board the prevailing desire for comfort and ease, he just didn’t do it in the obvious, cliched or un-YSL of ways; there were modern compact jerseys and fluid silks to move in and to feel free in. This pre-fall collection builds on that as much as planting the seeds for the aforementioned winter, which he describes as “lots of volumes, more rounded shapes, a bit of Art Deco, a bit ’90s and a bit of Poiret.” His trick is to take all of that and work it through some of the classic Saint Laurent-isms. The columnar line for evening that Yves loved so much now looks perfect for daytime, partnered with a tough belted leather jacket and an armful of bangles. The iconic le smoking also makes it to the other side of the dawn, as an eased up suit, a cape, or a sharp-shouldered coat. Those are just some of the strong outerwear statements on show here: oversized faux furs, cozily chic but with a casual flick-the-collar-up attitude; voluminous-shouldered cocoon coats and nifty leather trenches thrown over some particularly ravishing slithery lingerie slip dresses, a hint of romanticism given by their guipure or frothy lace edges. Finishing all this off: stretch velvet high-heeled boots; gilt-trimmed square-toed pumps; and frame topped handbags. Magnifique.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

NET-A-PORTER Limited

Sublime Symphony. Saint Laurent AW22

Anthony Vaccarello delivered one of the most beautiful, sensational and elegant moments of the entire fashion month. His autumn-winter 2022 collection for Saint Laurent was sublime, a true symphony of chic, refinement and grace that even Yves himself would applaud. What will be remembered most? Purely the sight of a woman in a long, silvery bias-cut dress, with a perfect black low-buttoned double-breasted black peacoat over it, her hands thrust into the pockets. She opened the show. And then the line-up of flawless black tuxedos and a single, narrow black tux coat which came at the end. Of course, there was a lot more in between: fake fur coats and bombers; amazing overcoats with big (not too big) shoulders; narrow leather coats; elegantly nonchalant cocoon-back profiles. Then the punctuation of something as simple as an ecru floor-length turtle neck T-shirt dress, worn with deep stacks of dark wood and silver bangles on each arm. And the high glamour of 1930s and 1980s evening jackets with big bands of faux fur running around them.

More than anything, all of this went to show how Vaccarello has got himself in charge of the Yves Saint Laurent aesthetic, relaxed into it. That’s no mean feat – the sheer magnitude and magnificence of Saint Laurent’s oeuvre is mightily intimidating. In the face of it, the temptation as a designer is either to rebel against it with super-short shorts, slit skirts, breast-exposure and everything Saint Laurent didn’t do (which Vaccarello did at one time) or to just be too reverential. What the job really calls for is someone who knows enough about the playbook of Saint Laurent to be able to honor its quality, but also has enough confidence to be nonchalant about using it. Vaccarello hit that point of maturity with this show. In his own accent, with his own taste. With, yes, maybe something of his Belgian-born sensibility coming through: vague echoes of that period of deconstructed minimalism, the monochrome colors, saving the air of being easy to wear, but then again, bringing it up to the level of the modern Parisian elegance that we all dream about. The collection was emotionally-charged, as it was a powerful tribute to Vaccarello’s father, who has passed away recently.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.