Thursday, October 2, 2008

A look through the keyhole...

Yves Saint Laurent

Today, Stefano Pilati presented his Spring/Summer 2009 collection for YSL. I approached it cautiously because, while I've never been a diehard fan of his, his most recent fall collection really put me off. I found it unnecessarily conceptual, cold, and sterile, in other words, the exact opposite of what Yves Saint Laurent is all about. Pilati has frustrated me during his tenure because he seems to shy away from sexuality, and sex was always a part of Yves' best work. Last season epitomized this, it was entirely asexual and because of that it was no closer to the spirit of the house than Tom Ford's overtly sexual work was while he was heading the house. Another thing that's begun to bother me is that Pilati doesn't seem keen to tap into the color that YSL is so famous for. I mean, he'll throw a fuschia one shouldered dress into an all beige, white and french blue lineup or a pop of bright pink into a mass of grey and black, but beyond that he hasn't really done much color since his first two spring collections at the house. So I was cautiously optomistic when the first images I saw didn't have any of the conceptual, modernist hair and makeup and there was some real color on the runway in the form of forest green and blood red sequins. Chic, hauty women with huge piled up chignons, cage booties and bras exposed by either open necklines or sheer tops imediately made me think of Catherine Deneuve in Belle de Jour outfitted, of course, by Saint Laurent himself. At this point, Belle de Jour has become such a go-to fashion standard that it could be considered a cliche, but when it's in the hands of someone who understands subversion, it's fabulously chic (see my entry on Prada as an example).

It started slowly, with Pilati first showing oversized jackets that were worn open or wrapped at the waist like a kimono or robe, cropped tops paired with semi-transparent high-waisted shorts or tapered, mannish trousers that exposed the undergarment underneath, and some classic Saint Laurent suiting. Shown in shades of black, navy, bisque and pearl grey it was classic and fairly restrained, the exception being those sheer shorts and trousers which are great in theory but would be kind of pervy worn on the streets. I mean, you wouldn't have to worry about men undressing you with their eyes, you've pretty much done it for them. In a way they had this strange sexual but not sexual at all thing going on because even though they're exposing the body, I don't find anything particularly sexy about it.

But then there came a clue; a caban coat made of the same cagelike patent leather as the booties. For those who don't know, one of the most famous looks worn by Deneuve in Belle de Jour was a black patent leather trench coat. This seemed like a more dangerous and overtly kinky homage to that iconic piece and was the thing that really made me think that this collection was at least partially inspired by Belle de Jour.

compare to the original c. 1967

image from

After that look, the collection seemed to head into sexy territory, which is refreshing for Pilati. Some of the blouses, jackets and dresses were undone to show the lingerie beneath and those that weren't were completely transparent. Particularly effective was a boxy rubberized jacket over sheer blouse, bra and semi-sheer trousers and a gorgeous blood red sequined dress with black bow and black underpinnings. More subtle, but strangely erotic, was a white strapless empire waist gown with a gathered bust that, if you squint, has the look of someone wrapping themselves in a bedsheet when caught en flagrante. It's most likely my mind that's making it up, but anything to give a pretty white dress some edge is good in my book.

Overall this wasn't Pilati's best collection, but it wasn't my least favorite from him either. It was nice to see him attempt sexy, but the truth is the way he did it has been done before, in fact it's been done before by two of the people he previously worked with; Miuccia Prada practically owns this ladylike sex-bomb territory, and Tom Ford based one of his best collections at YSL around the idea of lingerie and deshabille. Both of those designers have trodden this territory, and they've done it more confidently than Mr. Pilati has. Maybe Pilati is so hesitant about injecting true eroticism and sexuality into his collections because he will unavoidably be compared to Ford, and Ford was the king of erotic fashion. I don't know for sure what it is that's holding him back from exploring this facet of the Saint Laurent legacy, but he'll need to conquer it before I'm willing to acknowledge Pilati as the true heir to Yves Saint Laurent.

all fashion show images from

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