Saint Laurent: Nailing the Brand

Saint Laurent: Nailing the Brand

PARIS — The shoes pointed forward with their arrow toes streamlining from a low, curving heel — as fine a piece of geometry as the lines of a light installation that swung into place above the Saint Laurent show.

Those cute shoes, sometimes with socks, seemed like the anchor point of the sparkling, bounce-skirted party dresses and the oversize tailored jackets, hung from the models’ coat-hanger shoulders.

“It started with the shoes — the silhouette was defined by the shoes,” said the designer Hedi Slimane, as his fashion compatriot Jean Paul Gaultier and Betty Catroux, Yves Saint Laurent’s muse, congratulated him backstage. She was wearing what she described as an “S&M” jacket from the men’s collection — a reminder that this is only Mr. Slimane’s third outing in women’s, as opposed to men’s — fashion.

The designer has nailed Saint Laurent, the brand, taking elements from 40 years ago when its voice was a rebel yell, before it succumbed to the beautiful but bourgeois.

Mr. Slimane’s women do not seem to take many new steps forward, except with the current high-tech fabrics to give some punch to predominantly black masculine/feminine outfits. The clothes were, as before, a mashup of street style in Los Angeles, where Mr. Slimane lives and where “Mr. You’re on Fire, Mr.,” recorded on a 2001 album by the band Liars, was remixed last month for the show. A top with flames licking upward followed that story line.

The look suggested a move from updated hippies to more obvious party girls. And the evening clothes, often based on a one-shoulder drape, would have seemed classic with a longer hemline.

In the fast and funky delivery, Mr. Slimane does not forget the essence of his task: to revitalize a heritage brand. So there was the pattern of lips, first introduced by the young Yves in 1969. The tailoring was defiantly YSL in its shoot-from-the-shoulders straightness and the tuxedos, including one as a jump suit. The visible breasts behind a sliver of black chiffon that so shocked the world in 1968 bounced confidently down the runway. No big deal today.

This was a collection that polished Mr. Slimane’s vision: sharp, strong and so very Saint Laurent. But refreshing can only move the brand so far. It still needs a leap forward in those pointy shoes to make it a 21st-century leader.