While criticism has been mixed regarding Hedi Slimane’s reset of Saint Laurent, no one can deny the potency of his vision as well as the fact that Slimane is, for all intents and purposes, the founder’s chosen heir. But Slimane was only one of two designers selected by the master to succeed his legacy, the other was Alber Elbaz.
Elbaz is unique in that he was American trained, assisting the great Geoffrey Beene in New York for seven years before striking out on his own in Europe. He helmed Guy Laroche for a year before he was chosen by Mr. Saint Laurent himself to take over design duties for the Rive Gauche ready-to-wear line. Elbaz’s time at the house was limited but his output was no less striking. Already he had begun to define his own unique language, the foundation of which was perhaps first laid in Beene’s studio only to be bolstered in the hallowed halls of Saint Laurent. It’s a pedigree made for fashion lore. But Elbaz’s work for St. Laurent was notable in that he succeeded in capturing the Saint Laurent spirit in an era that would have ordinarily rejected it, bringing the house’s dark romantic codes into full effect at a time of severe minimalism. The Saint Laurent spirit is fluid and has as many different facets and iterations as the designer himself did. Interpreting it at any given moment risks the pitfalls of costume farce or simply falling on a flat note. A quick look at old reviews show that Elbaz evaded these problems with uncanny finesse and had done much to reclaim the Saint Laurent name as a bastion of progressive and modern dress. Since then he’s shown an incredible knack for transmuting his vision, one frittered with humor and vampish romantics as well as a deep reverence and respect for women, along with the codes of whichever house, into the spirit of the times. Looking back, it’s no wonder why Saint Laurent had chosen Elbaz in the first place to not only succeed him in the ready-to-wear but reportedly in the Haute Couture as well. And then it really makes you wonder how exactly everything would have panned out if Tom Ford hadn’t entered the picture.