Paris Fashion Week may be months away, but in the world of high fashion, September couldn't come any sooner. This year's showcase will mark the RTW debut of Raf Simons, the new artistic director of Christian Dior. Known for his minimalist approach, Simons' aesthetic runs in sharp contrast to Dior's tradition of extravagance and grandeur.
After sacking John Galliano for making anti-Semitic remarks in March 2011, the 65-year-old fashion house could not afford a misstep. Sidney Toledano, president and chief executive of Dior, was deliberately slow in finding a new hire. The lack of an artistic director however, did not hurt Dior's pockets one bit. According to an April 2012 Women's Wear Daily article, "Sales in [Dior] boutiques rose 28 percent in 2011, reflecting strength across ready-to-wear, leather goods and watches. Operating profits more than doubled last year to 85 million euros, or $118.4 million." But when one considers Galliano's dramatic departure and the generally lackluster reviews of Dior's recent collections under Bill Gaytten, it would have only been a matter of time before the luxury brand would start to be devalued.
The void filled by Simons means Dior is poised for a rebirth of sorts, but the Belgian designer's new role isn't the only reason why rumour mills in Paris and New York City are spinning into overdrive. Fashion lovers everywhere are anticipating the return of Hedi Slimane to Yves Saint Laurent. It was rumored that Slimane was previously in talks with Dior, but that negotiations stalled after Slimane requested an expensive worldwide overhaul of Dior's boutiques. The reappointed designer (Slimane was menswear director at YSL from 1997 to 2000) will compete for attention with Simons - currently stationed at Slimane's former house, where he was creative director at Dior Homme from 2000 to 2007.
And this is where the guesswork begins.
According to Women's Wear Daily, YSL representatives have banned all press from viewing Slimane's first offerings, with only an exclusive group of buyers being privy to Slimane's womenswear resort and menswear collections this June (or early July). It is not clear whether Slimane requested the press ban or if it was directed through PPR, the parent company of Yves Saint Laurent. Furthermore, a YSL spokesperson described both collections as being "transitional."
Was "transitional" just a Freudian slip? Possibly. The subdued train of thought would be that YSL is in warm-up mode. If Slimane produces a less than stellar start, YSL has time (ahem, insurance) to redo, reshape, rethink, rehearse for the main event, come September. But why is YSL taking extra precaution with its reacquainted hire? No one is certain, and at this stage, there is much secrecy concerning Slimane and his two upcoming collections. Even Suzy Menkes has kept silent on the press ban, despite being the first to break the news of Slimane's appointment.
Now, could Slimane or PPR be stealing moves straight out of Tom Ford's publicity playbook? Absolutely. Notorious for excluding reporters and inviting only a select group of editors and buyers, Ford has benefited greatly from low-key presentations; preferring instead to arrange exclusive editorial spreads with the likes of Vogue. In the same vein, Slimane and his team could just be boosting the suspense, silently directing us all to an epic homecoming. A YSL spokesperson confirmed with WWD that the exclusion of the press is meant to help Slimane make a more dramatic launch for the label in Paris this fall.
The 44 year-old's return to YSL may mark the first time Slimane has presented a womenswear line, but he is no fish out of water. It could just be that YSL is being a bit testy. And with good reason - hedging its bets on a designer who has very limited experience in womenswear is still a financial and creative risk. In an interview with T Magazine, Pierre Berge, Yves Saint Laurent's life-long partner, described the challenges that Slimane could face in his new role: "It's a great problem, very complicated, to recreate the work of a genius. Like trying to rewrite Faulkner. To put your stamp on the name of Yves Saint Laurent requires someone who has talent, conviction, rigour, a demanding nature and a great sense of colour."
Choosing to ban all press from viewing the "transitional" collection (and thus protecting Slimane from criticism), is no way to keep up a strong poker face. It only makes those of us who are fashion-obsessed ask more questions. It is a rather selfish positioning strategy; one that robs reporters, bloggers and fashion gurus alike from pure, unadulterated taste-making. At this point, I can only hope for a Twitter leak.
The anticipated showdown between Simons and Slimane echoes that of other historic rivalries: Gucci/Prada, Chanel/Schiaparelli, Armani/Versace, or even the great couture wars between Cristóbal Balenciaga and Christian Dior. Born six months apart, both designers revolutionised menswear. Slimane, with his pairing of skinny suits and jeans, and Simons, with his panache for bold colours, have generously given men a new sense of styling freedom. I have a strong hunch that the runways of Dior and YSL will thread together their shared respect for contemporary minimalism.
In spite of their similarities however, only one of two outcomes can occur in September: Slimane and Simons will either crush or be crushed. Their rivalry is of the best kind - creative sparring, designed to entice our imaginations with lush fabrics and intelligent interpretations. In the case of Slimane, it would definitely be nice if we could actually describe aspects of the "transitional" YSL line - after all, seeing is believing.
Until then, keep an eye out for any reporters attempting to double as fashion buyers.
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