In 13 seasons at Saint Laurent, Hedi Slimane has never taken a bow at the end of his shows. In a first, he did so Wednesday night after his men’s fall collection - and “part one” of women’s - at the Palladium in Los Angeles.
It was impossible not to read some subtext into the gesture. For weeks, rumors and press reports have circulated about his imminent departure from the storied label he resuscitated and made his own on the strength of ‘It’ bags, coveted accessories and prohibitively cool marketing. Was he telegraphing his plans? Or was he simply basking in the embrace of Hollywood, of a crowd that covered all extremes of the celebrity ecosystem, from Sylvester Stallone to Justin Bieber to Beck?
Other labels have gone West in recent seasons - Tom Ford and Burberry, most prominently. But Slimane’s decision to mount a lavish production in his adopted hometown had the makings of a swan song. Many of the looks he showed were explicit references to personal signatures, from the attenuated silhouettes he introduced in his first tenure at Saint Laurent, in menswear, to the flirtations with androgyny that he refined later at Dior Homme.
At any rate, the occasion was fraught with meaning. Los Angeles as the choice of venue was Slimane’s way of acknowledging the 50th anniversary of Rive Gauche, a collection Yves began when Paris was the center of youth culture. Slimane believes Los Angeles to be its modern-day equivalent, the groundswell of original and transgressive art and music. Instead of redoing looks from Rive Gauche, he channeled its spirit of rebellion with noirish coats, animal prints, and rock ’n’ roll swagger.
Needless to say, it was also a blockbuster opportunity for maximum exposure, perfectly timed to coincide with all the speculation about Slimane’s future. Los Angeles was blanketed with ads on buses, billboards, you name it. Saint Laurent’s social media channels had been stoking anticipation for weeks. And the show itself was an act of bravado: a rock concert staged at an iconic music venue with some of the best-known names in music - Bieber, Lady Gaga, Courtney Love, Joan Jett - sitting front row.
In fact, it seemed as if all of high-powered Los Angeles was in the house, though, as one perceptive cool L.A. girl pointed out, “It’s not L.A., it’s Coachella.” (Also front row: Slimane’s boss, Kering chief executive François-Henri Pinault who told WWD contract talks were ongoing, “We’re discussing, we have till the end of March.)
With so many elements in play and a livestream to boot, Slimane’s West Coast gambit was guaranteed to get blanket coverage, and on the day before New York Fashion Week was to start. In one fell swoop, he became just the latest designer to take his message directly to his audience and get away with it.