Saint Laurent, Spring 2013: A Retail Review

Last October there was a big stir caused by Hedi Slimane’s Saint Laurent redux. While it was widely accepted that Hedi’s knack for marketing and interpreting the times, as well as his own penchant for brooding, stylized minimalism would serve a house whose namesake had already chosen him as his successor, no one was quite expecting the new spirit, sourced direct from his stay in L.A., to be so jolting. But while reviews for the collection have been less than ideal, buyers praised it. And so the impact of Hedi Slimane for Saint Laurent would remain ambivalent, at least until his marketing and product development can take effect on a fluid brand perception and the all important quarterly results.

I was meandering through Barney’s and Bergdorf yesterday. The offerings for Saint Laurent from both retailers were strong (though Barney’s had given the label a bit more floor space), focused, and were curiously distinct from anything else on the floor. This is everything a brand and a retailer can hope for, minus a brisk sell-through. It was mostly dresses, none of which were shown on the runway (I assume, even in March, that what was on the floor was Pre-Spring and the runway collection will come in a later delivery). It all had a rather sleek, very tailored, very French, very romantic, but very modern vibe: exactly the kind of thing you’d want from Slimane for Saint Laurent. There was a short red floral printed dress with a flounced hem on the rack at Bergdorf’s and it immediately summoned the nuance of ’70s era YSL and the louche, vibrant spirit of the brand that the fashion world loves, filtered of course through Slimane’s sleek, urban, and utterly contemporary vision. And it was all the better for it. And if he had put the focus on these pieces for his runway, styled them up and had shown them for what they were, he may have helped to define a newer, fresher, and more vital idea of Saint Laurent than the L.A. focused, Rachel Zoe analogous looks he pushed instead. And the critical reactions to his theatrical debut for the brand probably would have gone a lot better.

At Barney’s I met a woman trying on a houndstooth shift dress with pleated/folded shoulders with leather inserts. She had to have been in her early ’60s. It looked great on her (mind you, she was not a model nor was she ever one). She loved it because everything else looked the same to her, it was all “sleeveless dresses, everyone is trying to do Alaia, but I just want something simple and conservative, straightforward.” It was easy French chic, and who doesn’t need that? She appreciated everything Barney’s had picked up from Saint Laurent and expressed relief that she could have these pieces from the label. The one issue she had was the hem length: the dresses were all so short. She tells me “I don’t understand, who do they expect to buy these clothes? Only young people can wear clothes this short, and how can they afford these prices?” I encouraged her to get the dress though she needed to have it lengthened and taken in on the backside, which was being done as we spoke by Barney’s staff tailor, but not after warning her that next season it was going to be all babydoll dresses, plaid shirts, tight leather dresses, and grunge. Youth would prevail. Defeated by this news she simply exclaimed “Oh forget it!”

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