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Hedi Slimane’s Retro Nod to Saint Laurent Is Simply Irresistible

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As Paris Fashion Week enters the final stretch, let us take a moment to acknowledge the hard work of so many models. This has felt like an exceptionally long season, and perhaps that’s because the runways have been so long, too. I mean, really long.

That was certainly the most remarkable thing about the runway at Givenchy on Sunday night, where the designer Riccardo Tisci had constructed a set that resembled a large maze built of plywood, with walls at shoulder height, so if you were not sitting inside of it, all you would have seen was the models’ heads. It took them ages to walk the whole track. I’m surprised no one got lost.

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Perhaps the maze was a metaphor for the feeling so many designers have of being trapped between the passions of creativity and the realities of running a business, for Tisci’s fall lineup was decidedly focused on the commercial. Some of his greatest hits were remixed with a cacophony of reptile and animal prints, and mosaics that resembled stained glass windows (below), along with lots of cool jackets, etc. Someone’s got to pay the bills, here, people.

But that sense of conflict was also very clearly felt at Hedi Slimane’s latest show for Saint Laurent tonight, set against a backdrop of endless speculation that Slimane might leave the house he spent so much energy turning into a retail powerhouse over the last four years. Symbolically, this was the first show held inside the 17th-century mansion that Slimane renovated and restored over the last year and a half as the new headquarters for Saint Laurent, as a precursor to bringing back an atelier for couture. Presumably, this did not come cheap, so let’s hope cooler heads have prevailed and the powers that be figure out a way to actually take advantage of this investment, like, say, retaining Slimane. I’m just saying.

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Besides, and more importantly, the collection was fabulous. Originally billed as a part-two of the collection Silmane showed in Los Angeles last month, this actually seemed a whole lot more than an afterthought. And although this was not technically billed as a couture show, Saint Laurent released a statement following the show that the designs were made there in the couture studio. (There are a lot of technical reasons why this might preclude the collection from actually being called couture, and I don’t pretend to understand them, so let’s just talk about the show for now.)

Guests entered the restored hotel particulier at night, discovering Slimane’s gleaming renovation had been outfitted with black chairs throughout salons over two floors, each bearing a gold nameplate engraved with the guest’s name. I tried to pry mine off, but it really was attached quite firmly. Rather than a customized score, as in shows past, here came the voice of Bénédicte de Ginestous, who called out the numbered looks in French and English during the reign of Yves Saint Laurent himself, once again reciting the count from No. 1 to No. 42.

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It was surprisingly thrilling to watch, and easily the most effective merging of the Slimane’s taste for contemporary provocation with Saint Laurent’s legacy of the same. The show opened with the most fantastic tuxedo – a “le smoking” specialty of both designers (pictured, top) – followed by twists of formalwear interpreted as dresses and a kimono made of black crocodile. These were followed by Slimane’s signature, the short rock-and-roll party dress, but instead of looking intentionally grungy or cheap, as in seasons past, these were dynamic and festively adorned – with sharp, fluffy ruffles, or flattened poofy skirts in gold or silver foil, evocative of the flamboyant 1980s creations of couturiers in the tradition of Lacroix, Ungaro, and, of course, Saint Laurent (below, left). The final look was a flaming red fur coat in the shape of a large heart – described as the “Coeur Saint Laurent” in the program (below, right).

It is also noteworthy that Slimane made more references to Saint Laurent than himself in this show, beyond the lack of a rock concert atmosphere. The slicked back hair and red lips – those that once inspired Robert Palmer – were nods to the classic YSL advertisements and shows, created here by Didier Malige and Aaron de Mey. And a final point. Slimane dedicated this show, called “Le collection de Paris,” to his own studio and couture ateliers.

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