Saint Laurent drops grunge looks for a hard-edged ’90s glamour in its ready-to-wear collection

Divisive as always, Hedi Slimane at Saint Laurent puts on an austere, intimate ready-to-wear show for a select audience in Paris

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 March, 2016, 2:01pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 March, 2016, 2:01pm

The controversy generated by the Saint Laurent Paris shows always make for plenty of anticipation; this season it was heightened with the brand drastically cutting down audience numbers for a show inside the halls of its couture maison on the Rue de l’Université on the left bank. All the mystery surrounding this new show format did not help to quash rumours (already denied by the brand) of the upcoming departure of creative director Hedi Slimane.

As the models walked out, there was no music, just a female voice projected through the speakers in each salon, “numero un, number one ... numero deux, number two ...” and onwards, a mechanical, metronomic and monotonous tone announcing each outfit. The effect was austere, intimate and yes a little bit pretentious – but notably a shift from the usual, big, loud rock’n’roll catwalk shows.

The clothes changed greatly too but were just as controversial. Instead of the ’90s grunge, silky slips, angsty checked shirts and unstructured baby dolls that have characterised Hedi Slimane’s ready-to-wear so far at the brand, it was ’80s maximalism tinged with hard ’90s glamour. Vintage clearly still very much informs collections at Saint Laurent.

Hair was slicked back, faces were made up with severe smoky eyes and vinyl red lipstick – looking untouchable and unfriendly, but also much slicker and more sophisticated than before.

Whilst lanky teens might have inspired Slimane before, this season’s muses seemed to be grown up women – which is welcome at a house with this much history. The silhouettes and shapes were still super short and body conscious, but also ultra sexy, confident and dramatic. The bold shoulder – with so many voluminous iterations in fur, satin and metallic organza – dominated most looks, drawing eyes up from barely there miniskirts. Then Slimane introduced very tight jumpsuits.

At first glance, all the bells and whistles were there: sequins, feathers, frilled leathers and bold architectural shoulders, all cinched by thick, brash belts. But upon a closer look, Slimane’s careful couture influences spoke through the clothes. And we were better able to see it in this new show format where audience members were only two to four metres away from the models, getting a good eyeful of detailing and textiles.

It wasn’t subtle but the specific proportions, beautiful fabrication and asymmetry of many outfits recalled the daring spirit of founder Yves Saint Laurent, who often expressed the power of women through compelling angular styles. Slimane replicated some of this, infusing a rather dangerous edge to the new Saint Laurent woman beneath the vintage tropes.