Saint Laurent is a house with such a storied though contemporary history that it’s impossible for a designer to encompass all of it at any given time. Pick your battles and win them – which is exactly what Anthony Vaccarello did with his Spring/Summer 2018 collection for the house. But with such an archive and namesake to draw from, what to choose? What, exactly, to say?
Bohemia is a word thrown loosely around fashion today, and one you wouldn’t immediately associate with the house of Yves Saint Laurent. You might think of Isabel Marant in her glory days of 2009, Chloé and its laced crochet blouses, and the interminable style of many a Hollywood starlet and their festival get ups. So it was a striking moment when Anthony Vaccarello, in his third outing for Saint Laurent in the Spring/Summer 2018 season, started his show off with a series of distinctly bohemian looks.
We’re talking unstructured jackets, billowy and often semi-sheer blouses worn with easy shorts and heels with a feather stuck to the back of it. There’s a freedom to these pieces that is a great improvement from his debut and sophomore collections for the house, which saw him take on ungainly and challenging silhouettes. While those were powerful and beautiful, you got the distinct sense that they were challenging for actual women to wear – that is, convincing clients to put on tough-looking leather dresses with asymmetrical cuts would be tough. The thing is, those dresses look amazing in editorial, on models like Anja Rubik and celebrities like Charlotte Gainsbourg, but they had a real hostile sense about them.
Not so with this collection. After starting off with those breezy and effortless separates, Vaccarello transitioned into mini dresses, that sexy staple which he can so easily put his signature on. They came with poufed hems, safari-style suede reworked into alluring bandeau-ed pieces, delicate lace and embroidery turned racy, etc. Distinctly, the clothes managed to evoke the Marrakech that inspired Saint Laurent’s own forays into bohemian and safari style – a modernising move for women’s fashion that we often take for granted.
This is quite good timing, what with the opening of the Fondation Yves Saint Laurent’s museum in Marrakech and the unfortunate passing of Pierre Bergé – the designer’s longtime business and life partner. In a sense, Vaccarello has a heavier challenge than even Hedi Slimane before him: to recontextualize the house of Saint Laurent so it may stay at the forefront of French and even global fashion.
But back to the collection. There were plenty of wearable and deeply desirable moments that really showed Vaccarello’s improved understanding of proportion and silhouette. Through all the women’s looks, there was almost definitely something to be found that could be lusted after. If it weren’t the pieces in particular, then the designer certainly made you want to be one of those girls. It’s the sort of laid back, after hours cool that is elusive to the newer generations of designers for whom daywear has become key. It’s almost old-fashioned to say it out loud, but there are clothes for day and night, and Vaccarello makes you want to stay up in his until the sun rises and its appropriateness wears off with the mirth of a night well-spent.
The most photographed and talked-about pieces, however, will definitely be the section of ambitious pouf dresses. It’s clear now that Vaccarello has ambitions to push and redefine silhouette where he can, and these were his season’s experimentations. Massive, impractical and wholly beautiful, these were his version of Saint Laurent couture for today.
Fluffed up and studded leather minis, shirts with feathered sleeves like a battering ram, richly embroidered zebra prints, glorious jewel-toned silk taffeta and the general excess of feathers – these looked to be his way of saying “take me dancing” with an unabashed desire to be looked at and admired. And that’s a powerful thing – something about taking back ownership of the gaze and doing away with any false sense of modesty.
The thing I love most about what Vaccarello is doing with Saint Laurent is that he isn’t going the traditional route of coming up with a seasonal narrative or some sort of far-fetched story. There's fantastic product that moves and tickles the glands of desire. Which is great! Cut the pretension and make good clothes, bags, shoes – there's a real honesty to a fashion designer working in such a manner. There’s not much to be said about these clothes beyond “behold, I’m fabulous!” – but really, need one say more?