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Battle of the Boring

4 minute read

Fashion is a funny beast. Logic would dictate that in an industry obsessed with youth and trendiness, young designers would be the toast of the day and old hands would be as popular as great-aunts at Christmas. Guess again. Fashion eats its young. And the legends live on and on — treated respectfully until they choose to retire. There’s even a special lexicon used to review collections of the old masters, no matter how out of date (“elegant!”), out of touch (“timeless!”), or dowdy (“refined!”). This discrepancy was blatantly apparent at the recent haute couture shows in Paris. The big show of the season should have been Givenchy’s. It was 28-year-old Welshman Julien Macdonald’s turn to try to revamp the legendary house after enfant terrible Alexander McQueen quit to build his own brand with Gucci Group. Macdonald, who once designed knitwear for McQueen, played it safe. Very safe. Macdonald makes dull Paris debut, said London’s Independent. The collection was lovely, but not ground-breaking. It looked like a job application for a couturier. Macdonald seemed to be saying, “I can do beading! I can do tucks! I can do embroidery!” He has also said that nothing would make him happier than to see Hubert de Givenchy at one of his shows and chances are this collection — packed full of references to the work of the old man — will appeal to whatever original Givenchy clients still remain.

At the other end of the haute couture schedule was Yves Saint Laurent. Not the Yves Saint Laurent that held a bash for a new perfume, Nu, featuring nearly-naked dancers in a transparent tube. Not the YSL that clothed newly-single Nicole Kidman at Cannes and Claudia Schiffer at a Bulgari party in Rome. That was all the work of Gucci Group, which acquired the Saint Laurent ready-to-wear and beauty brands in 1999. No, wrapping up the haute couture shows was Yves Saint Laurent himself. When Gucci chief Domenico De Sole bought YSL, haute couture wasn’t part of the deal. After all, De Sole answers to shareholders and selling a couple of $10,000 dresses a year at a loss doesn’t do much for the bottom line. So Saint Laurent, who turns 65 next month, got to keep doing Saint Laurent haute couture. And this season, even while the fashion press was dressing down Julien Macdonald’s attempts at reviving the classic haute couture style of Givenchy, it was lauding Saint Laurent for a collection which could have appeared on the runway at anytime in the last 25 years. A collection which opened with an orange blazer worn with a violet blouse tied like a scarf at the neck and a shapeless brown skirt. Particularly effusive were the grandes dames of English-language fashion writing. pure elegance by patron saint of paris fashion read the headline of the piece by the Daily Telegraph’s Hilary Alexander. “It proved that he holds all the secrets of couture in his hands,” said Suzy Menkes in the International Herald Tribune. Such is the sound of the fashion flock paying homage to a once-great designer. But in Saint Laurent’s case, there’s even more reason to rave. Ever since his business was bought by Gucci, Saint Laurent has been complaining bitterly, telling LVMH chairman Bernard Arnault within hearing distance of a TV camera that he “suffers like a martyr . . . It’s terrible, it’s terrible.” And pleading with Mr. Arnault to “get him out of this hustle.”

His remorse is baffling to Gucci Group executives who note that Saint Laurent did in fact sell his company — it wasn’t stolen from him. But it gives fashion journalists yet another reason to stand behind Yves. In a haute-couture season dominated by classic looks, the battle between a once-grand fashion martyr and new commercial forces makes for appealing fashion copy.

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