ANTHONY VACCARELLO’S SAINT LAURENT IS THE EPITOME OF FRENCH STREET CHIC
BY RHIANNA JONES
Though the adage goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” when Anthony Vaccarello was charged in 2016 to take over as creative director of Yves Saint Laurent, Yves’ iconography was hardly broken. But he gave the storied brand a whole new look anyway. Receiving the baton from the inimitable predecessors Tom Ford and Hedi Slimane left very large patent shoes to fill, so not only did Vaccarello knock out the “Yves” and resurface the house as his Saint Laurent, but he wiped the Instagram clean. Not without criticism, as most new designer’s typical formula is deeply honoring a house’s history and legacy, but Vaccarello was intent on reintroducing the brand and seducing a legion of younger fashion-hungry followers.
His laser-cut aesthetic mirrors his razor-sharp intellect as a Brussels-born Italian who dropped out of law school to study sculpture on a whim. His curiosity of form led him to the garment construction of Comme des Garçon’s masterful Rei Kawakubo and French legend Azzedine Alaïa. Leveraging his sculptural studies to experiment with design, a few years later he placed first at the Hyères Festival of Fashion and Photography where he caught the eye of none other than Karl Lagerfeld, who tapped Vaccarello to design Fendi’s fur line. With this debut in mind, one can justify Vaccarello’s grandiose sound bites like, “A fur coat in the desert. Why not? It’s chic.”
This haughty and naughty chic became one of the biggest through lines of his career, after launching his own label two years later in Paris in 2008. He quickly gained a global following, kicking o with longtime muse and model Anja Rubik wearing one of his skin-baring white gowns to the 2012 Met Ball. Soon legions of glitterati and celebrities alike began donning his designs. In 2014 he was asked to bring his Midas touch to a capsule collection for Versace’s sassy little sister brand Versus, inevitably being tapped as its creative director. Here he flexed his value from a business standpoint, doubling the brand’s sales and raising revenues over 20%, a growth mindset and magic that knighted him to (Yves) Saint Laurent, where he’s bolstered the house into a near $3 billion empire.
Vaccarello’s innate signature of blending shocking provocation and classic bourgeois is not only undeniably Parisian, but unquestionably Yves approved. The original YSL made headlines for his gender-bending female suiting and naked dressing, and Vaccerello also embraces a très Rock-n-Roll approach to design. While Slimane set the stage for a very cheeky and contemporary post-Yves Saint Laurent, Vaccarello rejected Slimane’s Hollywood and L.A. version, reclaiming the house’s distinctly French DNA. His Spring 2017 debut paid homage to some of Yves’s most iconic notes sweetheart velvet dresses, sheer tops, and tuxedo tailoring, but often with a micro mini hem or other ‘80s punky party-girl vibe. But if Binx Walton’s leather one-breasted mini dress and heart pastie combo communicated anything, it’s that Saint Laurent was no longer the Yves show.
Fast forward six years later, and Vaccarello’s androgynous staples continue to fuel one of Kering’s most pro table and powerhouse brands. But in true Parisian form, his commitment is to the craft of generating chic classics that last, not being a rapid fire seasonal trendsetter of say a Gucci, and he’s ne with that. As told in a Bazaar interview, “We have to take a break and stop running after the customer. Luxury has to be slower. If we try to keep up with the faster outside world, we die. When brands try too hard to sell 10 million coats, you don’t want to keep buying. You don’t need clothes! It’s about desire and creating desire. We need images and we need to dream, but we don’t need another shirt.” From being deemed WSJ’s 2022 Fashion Innovator, to designing costumes for an upcoming Pedro Almodóvar’s short lm, it’s safe to say that Vaccarello continues to create his own desires and bring us along his dream.