Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Flashback: YSL Spring Summer 2001

I've been thinking a lot about this collection lately, mostly because in the eight-and-a-half years since it was presented nearly everything shown in it has returned to the forefront of fashion (read: pleated tapered trousers, shoulder pads, the 80s in general). But I've pretty much always had a soft spot for this particular collection, and it was definitely one that helped shape my own tastes when I first got into fashion. The whole package is just so desirable; perfectly styled, sharply dressed, the right mix of masculine and feminine with more than a hint of sex waiting to be revealed. The odd thing is that for his very first effort Tom Ford did a really good job of making a clear statement by injecting a lot of himself into YSL and not getting bogged down in the legacy of the house, which is pretty immense. Interestingly enough (or maybe not so interestingly, considering the bitch fest that Saint Laurent and Pierre Berge were throwing at the time) the collection was met with lukewarm-to-negative reviews, with the main criticism being that it was all Ford and no Saint Laurent, or as someone quoted in the NY Times review put it, the collection was "slick -- and 'slick' is not what you'd call Y.S.L."

At the time it was shown I couldn't have cared less one way or the other, I just liked what I saw. Eight years worth of learning about fashion later and I can honestly say that I think the criticisms weren't entirely fair, and that you most certainly can equate the word slick with Saint Laurent so long as you bother to look beyond the respectable, fussy, bourgeois work that defined that latter half of his career to the erotic, scandalous, perverse things he did when he first established himself. No, this collection didn't look like Yves designed it but it did have an awful lot of what he originally stood for within it, interpreted through Ford's own aesthetic of course, which is exactly what should happen when a new designer is charged with working for an established house. That's the other thing that's gotten me thinking about this collection again, Stefano Pilati's recent work. When he started at the house his work was very feminine, very colorful and kinda fussy, much more like the work Yves did later in his career rather than the radical things he did when he started out. For the last two years though Pilati's work has grown progressively more severe, cold, and conceptual; the very opposite of Saint Laurent's ideal woman. Ford's own collections at the house went in the exact opposite direction, becoming more romantic, more overtly feminine and more subversive in their use of sexuality and seduction as he spent more time there. This all got me wondering; Why was Ford's work constantly criticized for not staying true to the house's DNA while Pilati's recent work is getting heaps of praise even though it's incredibly similar to what Ford did when he first took over? At the very least, Pilati's new work should be equally as criticized for not remaining completely true to the DNA of the house, because from where I'm sitting neither of them have addressed the whole of the Saint Laurent legacy, they've both chosen to focus on particular facet of it, which in truth is probably the smartest thing to do. But why criticize one person and praise the other when in reality they're doing the same thing, just in different ways? I just don't get it to be honest, and the only conclusion I can come up with is that a lot of people just wanted to find fault with Ford's work regardless of what he did. I'm not saying he was any more right for the house than Stefano Pilati is, but at the very least his cold, hard, sleek woman looked a hell of a lot more appealing. But you don't have to take my word for it...

Shown entirely in black or white, with the only shots of color being metallic gold or lavender wedge sandals and the occasional burgundy orchid tied around the models' necks, Ford concentrated mainly on sharp lines and construction, keeping texture and embellishment to a minimum. Le Smokings featured sharp shoulders, deep necklines and either pleated, tapered trousers or fuller cut cuffed trousers that fell over the foot. Occasionally they were worn with plunging, angular vests that looked like cummerbunds when worn under a jacket. For all of the structure though, there was a really sexy slouch to a lot of the tailoring, particularly in the pants. One of the recurring motifs throughout the collection was wrapping around the waists on dresses, tops and jackets, and I remember seeing the graphic black and white tank dress worn by Kate Moss in more than one editorial that spring. A top with a transparent back paired with a straight skirt was an update of Saint Laurent's iconic dress with the lace back photographed by Jeanloup Sieff in 1970, and paired under every look were boned garters and silk stockings. I have to say, I find something incredibly glamorous about sheer black stockings worn with a strappy sandal. And even though you can't see the garters on most of the looks, knowing that they're under the clothes is pretty f-ing sexy, especially on the more masculine inspired looks, don't you think? You can kind of see the garter underneath the second white smoking, and a clearer shot of it in the pic of Maggie Rizer from the side. Her look shown from the front is completely unremarkable, just a drapey knit top and silk trousers, but when you see that side view of her backstage the look takes on a whole new feel and you can't help but want to curse the photographers for not getting a shot of that on the runway.

As the collection moved from basic daytime separates styled with a decidedly after-dark feel into more traditional evening options, the wrapping that appeared throughout the collection became more structured, turning into obi-esque bands around the waist on some cocktail dresses and on a strapless bustier paired with trousers. The only real decoration shown in the collection made an appearence in the form of black feathers embroidered onto black dresses or on the lining of square panelled skirts with a train in the back. There was a trio of tulle covered mini dresses, tuxedo jackets spliced into asymmetrical harnesses or dresses, a gorgeous black satin three-piece smoking and an extremely sharp white bandage dress with the afforementioned obi detail. The final look was definitely where Ford let loose and had some fun, sending out an anatomically correct molded leather bustier complete with a diamond barbell pierced through the nipple, an homage to the copper molded bust and torso that Saint Laurent comissioned from sculpter Claude Lalanne in 1969 to be worn over chiffon evening gowns. I cannot fully express how much I love that particular piece. I know it probably makes me some pervy misogynist or something like that, but I love it. And I think this collection was a clear case of just how trained Ford's eye for details and presentation was as well. From the layered fringed hair that dipped over the models' eyes to the ribbons and orchids tied around their necks, right down to the tiny little "cigarette case" purses that came complete with lighters that slid out of the side. I kid you not, they came with working lighters. Check the blog header if you wanna see it for yourself. I might actually be convinced to take up smoking if I knew where to find one.

I really do think that given the current fashion climate, and the nearly ten years since it was shown, this collection definitely deserves a re-evaluation. It's just too chic to ignore.

All images from To see the entire collection, click here.


inaya said...

Oh my!!! What a joy... such a good choice to reflect upon and I love your thoughts on it. So many timeless and perfect pieces. Thanks for this great post. <3

Kim said...

what a wonderful post! i also adored this collection, and it's so interesting that this collection was considered too much ford and not enough ysl because i see alot of ysl in it...
and i've been dying to get one of those cigarette holders to the point of stalking ebay (and i don't smoke either) ;-)

Spike said...

Thank you Kim.

I actually saw one of the cigarette cases on Ebay a few years back. That's where I first found out about the lighters.

If you do wind up finding one you'll have to share the news!