Rarely has heartbreak looked so attractive. “Why’d you have to hit and run me? Now I’m all alone cryin’ ugly,” sings the Korean megastar Rosé, swaddled in bright green marabou feathers. Rosé is known to many millions around the world as a member of the red-hot K-pop foursome Blackpink, but we see her here in her second solo video, for a song called “Gone,” which dropped earlier this year. In another scene from the same video, she beats up a pillow. Once again, she is draped in marabou, but this time in a deep blue. She might be crying, but she sure isn’t crying ugly. Perhaps marabou feathers help ease romantic pain.
“For us, when we listen to a song, we instantly think of a look: how we’re going to dress ourselves, what kind of vibe we’re going for,” Rosé tells me over the phone from Korea, speaking for herself and her three Blackpink sisters. “Fashion has a lot to do with how we feel about the music that we’re making.” Anthony Vaccarello, the Saint Laurent creative director, noticed this earlier than most, and invited Rosé to Paris in 2019. “I got to meet Anthony for the first time when I went to one of Saint Laurent’s shows, before all the chaos started,” says Rosé, referring to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“She is Saint Laurent in the way she lives, in the way she takes charge of how she dresses, in her way of liberating herself from the crowd,” says Vaccarello, who tapped Rosé as Saint -Laurent’s new global ambassador. “She’s someone who represents today’s society.” As the new embodiment of Saint Laurent, Rosé joins a house whose founder was often known for the female company he kept. It’s impossible to think of the designer Yves Saint Laurent without picturing him surrounded by headstrong, quirky women. Betty Catroux. Catherine Deneuve. Loulou de la Falaise. Marina Schiano. Nan Kempner. They were the shock troops of Saint Laurent’s fashion revolution. He outfitted them in safari jackets and tuxedo pants, and sent them out to demolish the codes that dictated what women could and couldn’t wear. And they did.
Back then, these women were called muses, a term that seems to have fallen out of favor. It’s a noble tradition of collaboration and creative respect, and it goes back an awfully long way. Sadly, the ranks of Saint Laurent’s muses have thinned out considerably this century. Kempner, de la Falaise, and, most recently, Schiano have all left us. La Catroux—tall, taciturn, and a little chilly—is still with us, thank goodness. Last year, the Musée Yves Saint Laurent Paris mounted a show devoted to Catroux and 50 or so of the outfits Saint Laurent designed for her. It was curated by Vaccarello. “Betty isn’t a woman of the past,” he tells me. “She is always present.”
You can feel her presence in Vaccarello’s terrific collection for spring 2021. The black tunics and trousers, the silk blouses, the sheer babydoll dresses, and, yes, the sprays of marabou feathers everywhere evoke the freewheeling, decadent spirit of Yves in the 1960s and ’70s, without hitting you over the head. “I’m starting again at zero and going back to where Saint Laurent’s work began,” Vaccarello says. “For me, the past isn’t something bad, and I don’t regard it as a monster that must be crushed.”
If there were any doubts as to which era we are living in now, the show itself swept them away. Saint Laurent was one of the first houses to respond to the pandemic by opting out of Fashion Week’s semiannual strut on the catwalk. Instead, Vaccarello filmed his models striding along the edge of a dune in the middle of a nameless desert. (Don’t worry: A hidden runway kept the models from sinking up to their ankles in sand.) Vaccarello is known for putting on a hell of a live show, often using the Eiffel Tower to dazzling effect. So losing the theatrical intensity and drama of years past must have been a difficult concession to public health.
Not a bit, he says: “I had no frustration at all doing the show by video. It’s an idiom I have used from the beginning, even filming some of my shows with directors like Gaspar Noé and Jim Jarmusch. Yes, you lose the emotionality of a défilé—the tears backstage, all of that. But you’ve got to let yourself be carried forward. You can’t keep bumping up against something you once knew that makes it impossible to evolve.”
Which brings us back to Rosé and the modern-day muse—if there is even such a thing anymore. Today’s inspirational women don’t get discovered dancing dreamily at a nightclub; they’re much too busy. Rosé and her Blackpink bandmates—Jennie, Jisoo, and Lisa—spent four to six years training in a kind of Korean pop-idol academy run by YG Entertainment, the group’s management. After that, they had to beat out their schoolmates to get picked for Blackpink.
Still, the creative interplay that used to be part of the muse’s job description hasn’t vanished altogether, even if it’s gotten a lot more structured. “I hope I am a muse to him and that he does get a lot of ideas from me,” Rosé says. “Anthony and I talk or text message quite often—he’s really good at keeping us close. I have very strong opinions, and I think Anthony noticed that.”
Fashion editor: Shin Kim. Hair by SeonYeoung Lee; makeup by MyungSeon Lee for WooSun; manicure by EunKyung Park for Unistella. Photo assistants: Han Na Kim, Su Jin Kim, Maeng Jun Kim.
For his part, Vaccarello says Rosé joins an unbroken line of Saint Laurent icons. “There’s not a lot of difference between the Saint Laurent woman from before and today,” he says. “She’s younger now, but the character hasn’t changed: sure of herself, conquering, independent. That’s how I see Betty, and that’s how I see Rosé—women who don’t need anybody else to exist, who are truly themselves.”