Coco Chanel, Christian Dior and Gianni Versace: just a few of the designers whose labels live on without them, largely thanks to the talented founders themselves, but also because of new management having a keen sense for both maintaining and reinventing the brands. Now, Yves Saint Laurent - arguably one of fashion's most revered labels - faces the dilemma of life after leader as well. But it seems the brand's latest creative director, Hedi Slimane, intends on taking the design house down an entirely different path in order to ensure a bright and successful future for the company.
|Hedi Slimane, who was appointed as creative
director at YSL in March 2012, has decided to
make the dramatic name change for the company.
It was announced last month that Slimane, who was appointed creative director at YSL in March 2012, is planning on changing the house's infamous name to Saint Laurent Paris. Calling the controversial shots these days, Slimane has been given "total creative responsibility for the brand image and all its collections." And it's no surprise either: the former head of Dior Homme essentially redefined men's fashion over the past decade, introducing skinny suits and prompting Fashion Wire Daily to title him "the single most influential men's designer this century." Now, having signed on with YSL, the menswear game-changer is taking his newfound creative freedom and running with it - to Los Angeles, to be exact, where the studio is now based, as per his decision.
Changing a lot more than just locations, Slimane intends to transition the label into more modern times, drawing both name and brand inspiration from what used to be called Saint Laurent Rive Gauche in the 1960s. According to WWD sources, "Slimane hopes to bring Saint Laurent into a new era, and although this new move may raise eyebrows, it is in keeping with many other top houses that go by a singular surname such as Prada, Versace and Chanel."
Pierre Bergé, Yves Saint Laurent's partner in both love and business, echoes this sentiment, appearing to be fully on board. He tells WWD: "I'm very happy. Anything that makes the house more Saint Laurent is welcome."
Maybe, though, that's exactly what is so perplexing about this revamp. How does this all make the house become more Saint Laurent? If Slimane is so talented, why can't he transform the label back to its glory days via the designs alone instead of a strategic name change?
It's true that other luxury labels have faced similar obstacles and have formally or informally dropped the first half of their names in an effort to evolve. But, those names were shortened, not altered. Although the brand will ultimately be changing its name, the YSL acronym, on the other hand, is rumoured to be sticking around on certain products, like handbags, shoes and lipstick, perhaps pointing to a much bigger overall shift in the company.
It's an uncomfortable move considering the brand packs a pretty historic punch. In 1962, after his own stint at Dior, Algerian-born Yves Saint Laurent - with Bergé at his side - began his eponymous line. Saint Laurent's impact on the industry cannot be understated: not only was he was the first designer to feature black women on Parisian runways, but he also famously introduced ready-to-wear fashion to the French couture world and revolutionised women's clothing with androgynous designs such as the chic pantsuit. These days, to own anything YSL is to be in possession of a timeless symbol of French luxury; a branding triumph by anyone's standards.
Classic as it may be, though, maintaining this success in a post-Yves Saint Laurent world is a tricky task, which might - to some extent, at least - explain the need for change. Martin Roll, a business & brand strategist, explains: "When an entire brand and fashion house are built on the basis of the founders' personality and identity, it becomes a major challenge to keep the brand going after the demise of the founder, something many of the fashion houses have realised in the recent past."
|Yves Saint Laurent, pictured
outside a shop front in 1969.
In 1999, this issue largely became Gucci's concern, when the luxury goods giant bought the YSL brand. Saint Laurent still maintained control over the haute couture line, however, and also a watchful - and often painfully scrutinising - eye over his successors Tom Ford and Stefano Pilati.
Now, with the company's namesake no longer around, its new creative director has fearlessly taken the reigns. And why wouldn't he? When at Dior in the summer of 2006, Slimane turned down the opportunity to start his own collection for fear that he would lose control of his name; a clear indication that his role at YSL points to the promise of a certain - if not massive - degree of change in his favour.
Chances are, this isn't what Saint Laurent necessarily had in mind for the future of his label. A fierce protector of his brand, the designer himself once said to Tom Ford: "In 13 minutes on the runway you have destroyed 40 years of my career."
But Slimane has yet to make his public YSL runway debut, which is slated for Paris Fashion Week this fall. This leaves dedicated fans with little choice but to embrace Saint Laurent Paris and hope that Slimane's designs are more appealing than his naming strategy. And with a track record like his, he might just be able to pull it off.
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