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Suzy Menkes

Vogue International Editor Suzy Menkes is the best-known fashion journalist in the world. After 25 years commenting on fashion for the International Herald Tribune (rebranded recently as The International New York Times), Suzy Menkes now writes exclusively for Vogue online, covering fashion worldwide.

Saint Laurent: Simplistic Genius

Paris Fashion Week Day Six

30 Сентября 2014

I am fascinated by Hedi Slimane’s collections for Saint Laurent, not just for the mesmerising sets – this season a metal structure on which rainbow colours were projected in an eerie glow – nor for the designer’s choice of music, although two hours later I was still singing inside my head, “Un, deux, trois, Oh là là!” The electro-pop disco chanteuse Aleide had sung that over and over as the models in their flimsy dresses, too shrunken at the bust not to display a lot of little bosoms, walked the runway perched on gawky platform shoes.
What intrigues me is the idea that these Seventies-inspired clothes look cheap, even tawdry, in their skimpy shapes and  gaudy glitter, but are actually perfectly made in fine materials.

This is the inverse of a fashion culture that has existed since fashion merchandising began – or before. Surely mediaeval types and even ancient Romans would try to ape the style of their social superiors? In the 20th century, the invention of nylon allowed the poor to look like they were wearing silk, and rhinestones have long mimicked diamonds.
But here is Hedi Slimane doing exactly the opposite. The “cheap” little dresses with scooped “U”-line bodices – a trend guaranteed to hit the high street stores in a heart beat – are classy pieces embellished with skill.
The boxy fur jackets that Hedi admitted backstage were inspired directly from Yves Saint Laurent’s “chubbies” were shocking in the Seventies because they were a reminder of the war years. On the runway here, as downy white feathers, they were adorable.
With taut suede and leather jackets, sleek pin-striped tailoring, Lurex sweaters and fireworks of embroidery on a velvet cape, Slimane went back to the YSL glory days – portrayed so graphically in the recent film, Saint Laurent, which revealed the designer’s wild years in the Sixties and Seventies.

Slimane, who currently has an exhibition of his photography at the Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent Foundation in Paris, took a particular vision of that period: the photographic manipulations of Los Angeles artist Robert Heinecken from 1963-74.
A slim book presented to the audience featured the artist’s re-appropriated “para-photography”: surreal juxtapositions and overlays of sexual imagery with magazine and newspaper pages. A MoMA exhibition of Heinecken’s work went on display this year at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, where Slimane lives, and must surely be seen as a major inspiration to the designer.

The concept of art feeding fashion has been going on for a generation. So what does this have to do with Saint Laurent and its brand image for Spring/Summer 2015?

Hedi Slimane captured on the runway the spirit of the Seventies that belonged, in fashion terms, to Yves Saint Laurent. Hedi interpreted that in a cherry patterned dress sloping off one shoulder, a pinstriped men’s jacket (but worn with leather shorts), little black dresses scooped to the rib cage, and a gold-buttoned navy blazer. There was even a Forties-style turban from a YSL collection that was considered a distasteful reminder of the war years in its time.
The designer re-envisioned this look as worn by young women just over the sexual threshold. And his audience, which included music legend Lenny Kravitz, Pete Doherty, and members of Daft Punk, cheered Hedi on.
The clothes are simplistic for those who prefer complex fashion. But they look accessible, which was Yves Saint Laurent’s intention in his youth before the brand became a bourgeois paradise. 
I am prepared to bet a rhinestone cowboy belt that these modern designs will fly out of the stores. And I declare Hedi Slimane a genius of re-invention at Saint Laurent.

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