What has already been said about the Saint Laurent collection doesn’t need noting here but it is perplexing that the conversation has mainly revolved around PR, personal vendettas and social media shenanigans. We may have more coverage of fashion shows than ever before, but is it necessarily coverage of the right stuff? It has never felt more clear to me that reports of open letters, physically slapped PRs and Twitter feuds are all mere distractions to the real problem at hand - this ongoing elusive search for modernity in fashion that peppered the reviews like a lustful longing that perhaps hasn’t been quite fulfilled.
Raf Simons apparently came close with his collection for Dior, which Suzy Menkes hailed as a “Triumph of 21st Century Modernism”, an opinion not necessarily shared by all. Nicolas Ghesquiere was praised for his “utterly modern gloss on intense study of the house's archives” at Balenciaga (Nicole Phelps, Style.com). Phoebe Philo at Celine gave us “a collection jam-packed with juicy innovation. (Lisa Armstrong, Telegraph) Alex Fury at Love Magazine praised a trio that included Ghesquiere and Philo for their offerings of perceived newness: “The best collections thus far in Paris have all offered opposing views, but modern views. Rick Owens, Nicolas Ghesquiere for Balenciaga and Phoebe Philo for Céline hit the jackpot, although their collections couldn't have been more different.”
The full Daft Punk-engineered soundtrack of the show unfortunately doesn't include the killer intro that had the venue buzzing with excitement as the acoustics were changed with moving black panels and lowered speakers.
Bringing us back to the subject at hand, when it came to Saint Laurent by Hedi Slimane’s ready to wear debut, the consensus of critics has been that it lacked the “frisson of the unexpected” (Lisa Armstrong, The Telegraph) and that it was underwhelming, fueled slyly by less-than-favourable seating allocations and furors at controlled press environments. Good old Bill Cunningham gets it in one though “The critics had demanded a revolution and they didn’t get it. And yet there was a revolution at both houses. The designers took back their authority, presenting clothes that women might actually buy and wear, instead of creating eye-popping spectacles for the press.”
When I came out of the Saint Laurent show (disclaimer: I was standing. I didn’t care though. I saw the show just fine.), my very primal and initial thought was that this was Slimane’s big “F U” to fashion. By fashion, I mean the microcosmic industry, which in the larger scheme of things doesn’t really dictate how the consumer at large buys their clothes. Slimane’s departure from fashion and into the American wilderness may have given him more perspective about this microcosm and that what he wants to say with his womenswear debut for Saint Laurent may not be to the liking of upper echelons of directional tastemakers. Within this teensy tiny world, critics and editors push collections that to most eyes seem implausible - fluffy slippers at Celine, giant ruffles at Balenciaga, bubble dresses at Rick Owens. We, the fashion folk collectively laud these things and itch to buy them but what about the consumer who actually wants to look like that girl that strutted down the Saint Laurent catwalk to a soundtrack that hummed “I gotta try you girl.” A quick search on Twitter immediately after the show from non-editors, non-industry folk showed a favourable thumbs up. “Gorgeous!”, “I want everything!”, “I DIE!” were what I recall reading. That was a quick scan of about 300 tweets. What does it say about modernity if there are many girls who want to look like this right now?
The Saint Laurent girl looked like she had rolled out of bed post a sexy liaison with some indie boy, right into a perfectly poised floppy hat, an immaculately tailored jacket, tight-as-you-might trousers, and a sheer pussy-bow blouse that reeked of “I’m the girl that guys want to get with and the girls want to be.” To put a generalization out there, that’s an alluring prospect for a lot of women. Across the world be it Los Angeles (supposedly the starting core of the collection), Tokyo, Shanghai, New York, Sydney and beyond - I’ve seen girls and women emulating this look albeit without the finesse that Slimane applied to clothes that even to my standing showgoer eye, looked extremely well crafted and as expected, well-tailored.
In some respects, the show was a big wake-up call for me, the number one perpetrator of pushing a fashion agenda that isn’t palatable to most. Walking out of the Saint Laurent show gave me a clarity that what’s powerful about today’s fashion world is the choice we have. There was no show that echoed what Slimane created for Saint Laurent this season. Sadly, there were many shows that echoed each other in their shared influences and routinely include watered down Balenciaga-isms, Alaia-isms and Celine-isms. For that, I therefore applaud Slimane in doing his own thing, guided by instinct, even if it’s not necessarily to my own aesthetic taste.
The look that Slimane carved out for Saint Laurent is enduringly evocative. Yes it kept within the codes of Yves Saint Laurent’s yesteryear of Safari nods, velvet suiting a la Betty Catroux and chiffon kaftans from his Moroccan soujourns, but that women at large (in Los Angeles and beyond) in 2012 still crave to look like this says that Slimane is cannier than the critics give him credit for.
That said, I mean no disrespect to those industry figures in fashion’s hierarchical microcosm and I praise them for their work and their perspective. God knows we need to cherish those perspectives when fashion continues to be increasingly dumbed down and de-opinionated in media. What I guess I’m trying to get at is what’s modern in fashion is in the eye of the beholder. We, the critic, the stylist, the journalist or the editor - can search for it all we want but what people actually want to wear right now in their majority, shouldn’t be discounted as outdated public opinion.
A quick gander at Saint Laurent’s new website with its shiny e-store and already I’m seeing hyper excited waitlists forming for Slimane’s core collection of leather jackets, skinny jeans, pussy bows and footwear just as his creations for Dior Homme would routinely sell out and create frenzy. Actually the website in general is most telling of Slimane’s creative direction of the house. The site alludes to youth, music and sex - all the things that we know Slimane for and has made his design identity such a recognisable one. At least Slimane has one (an identity, that is), even if it rubs people up the wrong way.