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!
While Saint Laurent‘s pre-fall 2020 is released just now – the moment when the clothes hit the stores – it has the clues of the main, runway collection which we’ve seen back in March. It was Anthony Vaccarello‘s big success with colour, something so distinct and signature for Yves. “I started really enjoying those mixes of colors with the pre-fall” Vaccarello said. “It gave me the idea and desire to continue it for winter. I always thought that [color] was not my thing… but with time I have to say I just love mixing those improbable colors together, like in a painting.” With autumn there isn’t the same maitresse vibe of winter, but instead a softer, warmer approach, using color -mainly warm rust, ochre, a deep leafy green – in a judicious way so that it exalts and amplifies the kind of pieces Vaccarello sees as his perfect super-chic, super-Parisian wardrobe. That could mean a red velvet jacket over a white open-neck blouse and with beaten-up jeans. Or it could mean a kingfisher silk blouse gleaming from beneath an ocelot-like furry bomber and leather ski pants, the shade of blue set off beautifully by a hippieish gold metal belt. The other narrative threaded throughout this season at Saint Laurent are the 1970s. Here the decade is given a different cultural context by Vaccarello. He’s not looking so much at the likes of Betty Catroux or Loulou de la Falaise, but instead Jane Fonda. “[She] is always relevant, for everything she did in the ’70s and also for what she is still doing,” he said. “She is committed and active and never afraid to stand for her beliefs.” Incidentally, the year that her feminist-empowering thriller Klute came out – 1971 – was the very same year that Yves himself sent out his controversial ’40s-by-way-of-the-’70s collection. There are shades of both in this Saint Laurent autumn: the button-through skirt in leather or patchworked denim; the fluffy chubby; the squared-off shoulder line of a double-breasted jacket. I must admit that Vaccarello’s way of doing things at Saint Laurent gets better and better with time.
A few days ago I asked you on my Instagram stories to pick one of your favourite collections ever and I would make a collage with it. Here’s @elif.karadut’s choice: Anthony Vaccarello‘s autumn-winter 2017 collection for Saint Laurent! All dressed up, but nowhere to go… for now.
More of your choices are coming in the following days! If you missed the game, you can still write me your favourite collection and I will do the work. Got plenty of time. Culture isn’t cancelled, fashion isn’t cancelled!