Recently, Cathy Horyn succinctly wrote of her longtime nemesis, Hedi Slimane and his accomplishments (or lack thereof) at the house of Yves Saint Laurent: “In two years as creative chief, he has barely broken a sweat as he fetches another pussy bow from the ’60s time capsule.” While this may be true, one can still not deny Slimane’s victory in reviving the brand’s success, awareness, and mass desirability. (Do you think any of the young girls sporting sporting the Cassandre Tassel Bag even know who Stefano Pilati is?)
I’ve often written of the unfair and increasing demands on the modern designer, though the struggle between “art” and business is age-old and ongoing. As critics, we naturally demand high fashion and creativity from designers. Then again, without a high degree of wearability or relatability to their clothes, how are they to sustain their art? Few designers have continuously struck this balance as well as the prolific Miuccia Prada, and she is a rare breed. Commercial success, once scoffed at by “real” designers, is now the primary measuring tool of your craft. And not only are they to turn out four seasons worth of collections a year, they are expected to regularly tweet, post on Instagram, and make public appearances.
I remember when Tom Ford first entered the House of YSL, and during the course of his reign, nary a glaring logo was to be found on a single bag. The Mombasa, a slightly structured, softly rounded, and subtly pleated bag topped with a perfectly sculpted horn handle (some were made of deer antler), captured my heart. Ford’s time at Gucci saw the brand from bankruptcy to a $10 billion conglomerate at the date of his departure in 2004. Clearly, times have changed and logos trump inventiveness. Banal? I have to say yes.
That’s why I currently prefer the likes of always-off-beat Maison Martin Margiela (take their I.D. Bracelet Clutch, for example) and the handcrafted artisanal work of Hermès, and do not currently own a new YSL bag (or Saint Laurent, as Slimane insists the brand be referred to). But I also love a great high-street find. I don’t believe the two are mutually exclusive, that you have to ultimately pick one or the other. Individual choices: that’s the hallmark of great fashion for me. Speaking of choices, do you think the democracy of fashion has gone too far? I have to say maybe so. Saint Laurent Cassandre small tassel crossbody bag, on back order at Neiman Marcus, $1750, and Maison Martin Margiela I.D. Bracelet clutch, $2,675, at Barneys New York.