The YSL logo is carved into the sand along a hillside of a desert where the sand reflects the bright sunlight. It can be any desert area in the world, or it can be the Moroccan desert, a country that is the second home to Yves Saint Laurent, a country where the house’s founder bought a house in 1966 and spent his times there to relax and recharge and also to design.
Anthony Vaccarello, the creative director of Saint Laurent, staged his summer 2021 show with models walking delicately on the sands in the pumps and slingback heels with a lean and mean collection of clothes that reflect the spirit of the YSL 1960s, especially in the actual pieces and drawings in the vast archives but recalibrate the garments for what women would want from fashion today, and filmed the show in this desert that can be anywhere in the world.
The 1960s was a period of revolutionary changes in the restructuring of the societal hierarchy with the rise of women in social-economic classes fighting the enduring systemic patriarchy where clothes and the body became the center of the fight for new freedoms. The sexual revolution of the late 1960s allowed fashion designers to reveal the women’s body, and YSL was the first with a completely transparent black sheer chiffon dress with an ostrich feather belt in the 1968 spring collection, now in a similar version but short dress with marabou trims.
It is from the jersey pieces in pure and soft shapes found in the YSL archive that gives the intellectual backbone to this collection where the designer reigns in any overt sex exposure from his past collections into a powerful statement about the strength of fashion during uncertain times just like it was in the mid-1960s turbulent era.
The collection is at once a new mood for a new era, but more than anything else, this Saint Laurent show provides the template for today’s fashion with its calm command of craftsmanship to create clothes with allure. Even more critical here is how Vaccarallo let the clothes do all the talking and showing without little need for anything quaint like art collaborations for decorative purposes rather than for pushing forward ideas.
I wanted to focus on the essence of things. I think it’s a sign of the times. But I didn’t want anything bleak or heavy. The desert, to me, symbolizes that yearn for serenity, open space, a slower rhythm. The clothes are softer, the spirit of the collection is more gently, stripped back
– Anthony Vaccarello
This show is a real ready to wear show where none of the models carry a single handbag like all shows nowadays where the clothes seem to play support roles – like it was in the 1960s when the house’s founder started his Rive Gauche line ushering a new era for fashion. The show opened with a black long, lean front buttoning jacket with patch pockets paired with fitted above the knee shorts and set the tone for a more monochromatic collection with a few floral print dresses with black marabou feather trim sleeves. The jackets’ cut is sharp with a natural shoulder and a long and lean shape that accentuates the body’s length, like the collarless straight jacket with short cigarette pants or the black long coat with a leather waist belt.
There is a whiff of menswear’s influence in these lean cut clothes shaped around the model body, from the jumpsuit shorts to the tailored suits. “My style is androgynous,” remained one of the famous quotes from the founder inscribed at the Paris YSL museum.
The classic YSL safari was originally made for the 1967 runway show and but the khaki cotton tunic with string closure or as a patch pocket jacket that became an instant iconic garment by 1969 is now seen here as a black long sleeve lean tunic with a deep v-neckline, side pockets, and two double cross leather string closures. The jumpsuit from YSL Spring-Summer 1968 now resurfaces here as a black jersey short jumpsuit with a front zipper paired with a white spread collar shirt and a black belt with a gold buckle.
The black paisley four-button jacket and pants, the black turtleneck tunic and pants with ruffle-trimmed sleeves and pant legs, or the black cropped vest and long pants are the new versions of the smoking looks, as the founder reminded his customers that “for a woman, the tuxedo is an indispensable garment in which she will always feel in style, for it is a stylish garment. Fashion fades, style is eternal.”
With this summer collection, Vaccarello cut through the noises of fashion, sometimes even his own, like those highly charged and ubiquitous rubber dominatrix pants from his fall 2020 show in Paris in late February. Now the sexiness resides in the soft mustard underpants satin shorts worn with a rust blouse and a light brown long trench coat – a different volume and tone for a new fashion era.
The white rose necklace worn with the black pantsuit, the white daisy earrings and long brass necklace, the gold string necklace, the gold flower petals necklace, or the gold dragonfly necklace are the jewelry pieces created by Claude Lalanne, a jewelry artist known for her experimentations with shapes, scales, and motifs as a bit of surrealist wearable art pieces rather than just ordinary custom jewelry. Lalanne made the gold breast corset, gold fingernails, and gold waist belt paired with the blue chiffon and a black long sheath dress for YSL fall winter 1969 collection.
However, this spectacular Saint Laurent show poses a huge dilemma for the fashion industry so fast in returning to the old ways in the old days. Saint Laurent is the first major company to withdraw from the official Paris calendar to present a new collection at a time, and a place that’s the house considers optimal. How can any brands now go back to the regular type of runway shows, trying to create some staging as backdrops – a faux environment – for the clothes?
With this show, Saint Laurent is pointing the way forward in the approach to the timing of shows and the physical manifestation of how shows can be done in the future without compromising the collection. This may be one of the strong directions for the near future as the fashion industry ponders its way forward after a tough year. This isn’t a substitute short film done to placate the seasonal needs for new collections: this is a planned strategy with the execution of this highly creative road, and the format of the show clearly enhances the clothes.
And when the sunset in the desert, the models walked in a finale in the pitch darkness of night along the same path now guided by just the lights from the flames with the mix of classical music by SebastiAn, a French composer, mixer, and music producer who has produced songs for Charlotte Gainsbourg, Frank Ocean, Woodkid and Kavinsky.
The young French designer Jacquemus has experimented with this format of staging actual shows outdoor and outside of the official calendar for his spring 2020 show in Provence, where the models walked on a fuschia carpet set in the middle of a field and his spring 2021 inside the wheat fields north of Paris cut-outs with paths. It will take a major brand like Saint Laurent, to really disrupt the old ways in the ‘old’ fashion system.
Whether the fashion system will change or not and how the show format and the calendar will evolve remains to be seen, but Saint Laurent clearly leads the way towards a different fashion future.