Welcome to Saint Laurent Men’s Winter 23 by Anthony Vaccarello in Paris.
Long, tall, lean, chic. Those were the words that spontaneously shot to mind while Anthony Vaccarello was sending out a menswear collection that swept away the gendering of clothes with every passing flick of its floor-grazing coat-tails.
At Saint Laurent, it was instantly very clear: Vaccarello has been building on the dramatically attenuated silhouettes that have been striding out at his women’s collections recently, and their transference into menswear is now complete. “I really want them to be almost one person,” he said. “So women could be the men, and the men could be the women. No difference. I want more and more to put them at the same level. No distinction.”
While the audience reclined on a circular banquette, sipping Champagne at the perimeter of a beige center-stage—this much was almost pure Tom Ford for Saint Laurent era decadence—it was equally apparent that Vaccarello was speaking about his idea of what drop-dead elegance means to people of his own generation. In material terms, that translates to dark, vertical, narrow coats; black leather and velvet; necks exaggeratedly tied in flourishing bows or sunk funnel-necks; the cool, tailored swagger of Smoking jackets, the cache-coeur drape of tops and chest-revealing cowl-front silk shirts that plunge into wrapped cummerbunds.
Whereas what was for “her” was pioneeringly co-opted from “him” by Yves Saint Laurent in the 1960s and ’70s, now Vaccarello has reversed the process in the 2020s. Of course, the codes of the house offer endless gifts to play with on the menswear scale: patent block heels, adaptations of the pussy-bow see-through chiffon blouse, a hint of the North African draped hood. Vaccarello did all that, with a confidence and conviction that is all his own.
What’s progressive about it is the way he’s pushed past anything that might be categorized as “blurry,” “fluid” or “neutral.” In the bigger scheme of fashion, his contribution is bringing exactly the opposite qualities to rethinking clothes and gender: what Vaccarello deals in is rigor, precision, and a brilliant ability to cut. It was a true Saint Laurent on-brand orchestration, for sure, but a resonantly relevant step forward for the designer too.
Ultimately, Saint Laurent’s drug addiction and depression took their toll, and by the 1980s the designer was no longer innovating. When Gucci Group stepped in to acquire the financially ailing company in 1999, Tom Ford soon was given the job of creating ready-to-wear while Saint Laurent remained in charge of haute couture. Increasingly frail, the founder stepped down in 2002, shuttering the couture house and leaving Ford as sole creative captain.
Carrying on the complex legacy of Saint Laurent would prove to be a herculean undertaking. But while Ford took punches for being more of a headline-grabbing, hit-making businessman than an ivory-tower designer, his stewardship of the label increased sales and lured celebrity fans. When Kering, then Pinault-Printemps-Redoute, bought more than 99 percent of Gucci Group in 2004, the high-gloss Ford left and was subsequently replaced with the more subdued Stefano Pilati, who had a knack for crafting fresh silhouettes that, while puzzling to many at first, often turned out to be curve bending. In 2012, after quietly celebrating its 50th anniversary, the house announced that Pilati would be succeeded by Hedi Slimane, a master of androgyny who had first made his name in menswear. Considering Saint Laurent’s legacy of masculin-fémininsophistication, his appointment was a bold, forward-looking choice, and his collections were hugely influential, but his tenure was marked by much criticism from the press, which found his clothes derivative of vintage finds. The young Belgian Anthony Vaccarello succeeded Slimane in 2016.