Kering has confirmed that Hedi Slimane is leaving his role as creative head of Saint Laurent with Anthony Vaccarello seen as the most likely successor. It’s possibly not the best day to confirm that kind of news. Waking up on April 1 I’m always sceptical about anything I read due to the large number of annoying April Fool’s Day stories. But given that a) the fashion industry isn’t known for its sense of humour (thank goodness) and b) this kind of thing is too big to joke about, let’s assume it’s actually happening.
It’s no surprise really. The rumours have swirled for months and the flurry of ad campaign activity in the past couple of days has felt a bit like making sure everything’s locked up before you switch out the lights.
So, what does it mean for Saint Laurent? A lot. Slimane has rebuilt the brand over the past four years and won new fans. Personally, I didn’t like a lot of what he did on a pure fashion/design level, but then as a 50-something with a Prada addiction, I’m not supposed to.
I liked some of it too though. And lots of customers (far wealthier and much younger than me) liked it too. Those people who’d never even thought about buying YSL, even when it was under Tom Ford’s control, bought into Slimane’s vision of rock chicklet-meets-grunge, Topshop-gone-luxe looks.
Just look at the figures. Saint Laurent’s sales soared 26% last year compared to around 4% for Kering’s luxury brands as a whole. Those sales went from €253.7m in 2011, the year before Slimane took over, to €973.6m last year. He didn’t get them to fashion’s magic €1bn, but they’ll surely reach that point this year during which time his influence will still be huge.
So what of the future? Well, if Anthony Vaccarello does take over, it’s unlikely that Saint Laurent will suddenly change direction and go down a boho-meets-folk route! Vaccarello is known for his sexy profile (see pictures below) – so it was no surprise when he got the design job at Versace’s Versus label. In fact, the recent Saint Laurent couture collection wouldn’t have looked strange as a Vaccarello offer.
It would mean no drastic change of direction. But would there be enough of a change to make customers really feel they were buying into a fashion moment? That’s quite important these days at the luxury end as designers like Alessandro Michele at Gucci and Deman Gvasalia at Balenciaga, plus, of course, Slimane himself at Saint Laurent, make customer feel they’re not just buying clothes or bags but fashion history. One of the criticisms of Alexander Wang’s time at Balenciaga was that he didn’t reshape the label enough after Nicolas Ghesquière.
But maybe Kering isn’t looking to change its winning formula too much. And maybe Vaccarello won’t get the job. Only time will tell…