29-Jun, 09:00

06:37, September 28 258 0

2016-09-28 06:37:06
Fashion Review: Anthony Vaccarello at Yves Saint Laurent: 1980s Kitsch and Kaboodle

The neon YSL suspended from a crane over the inner courtyard of the 17th-century hôtel particulier, like a giant branded moon over a building site, lit the way to the first big show of the last big week of the women’s wear spring season: Anthony Vaccarello’s debut at Saint Laurent.

Its fluorescent light cast a nightclub glow on the raw concrete arches that lined the walkways, illuminating the worn paving stones and the boarded-up windows and doors of the former-abbey-turned-French-armed-forces-ministry-turned-soon-to-be-YSL-headquarters.

Well, that’s how it goes these days. The present confronts the past and transforms it into the future. Or so one hopes, anyway. It doesn’t always work out like that.

Sometimes the present stumbles over the past and falls flat. Which was it at Saint Laurent?

A purposeful pratfall and a hop to the side.

Mr. Vaccarello dove into the YSL of the 1980s for his introductory effort, eschewing the usual tropes of safari suiting, gypsies and Mondrian in favor of the big-shouldered, shirred, asymmetrical, metallic Saint Laurent of the later years (plus some Le Smokings, given a streetwise slant with the sleeves lopped off; transformed into a jumpsuit; or rendered in a slick, square-shouldered tuxedo over skintight denim).

Like many designers of his generation — he is in his mid-30s — Mr. Vaccarello is fascinated by the decade that defined his youth, and he revisited it in a stream of thigh-high, one-shouldered, single-leg-o’-mutton-sleeved, breast-baring dresses in leather, lace, Lurex and leopard spots. Also one Amazon-at-the-disco moment with leather skirt and rhinestone pastie.

This had the advantage of avoiding some of the worst Saint Laurent clichés, and to a certain extent almost seemed to pick up where the last show by his predecessor, Hedi Slimane, left off, albeit in a less stylized, precious way — though Mr. Vaccarello declared ignorance of Mr. Slimane’s work for the brand.

Certainly, he did not take Mr. Slimane’s approach to merchandising the runway, disguising a broad array of options under an attitude of grunge. Instead, he offered one idea, and he offered it a lot. But a disembodied striped sleeve strapped across the torso like evening armor and worn over a white tank top and slouchy black trousers aside, he didn’t refine that idea to the point where it becomes an abstraction: the kind of garment that transcends its own origins to demand reassessment. He just repeated it. Free the nipple can be politics or it can be kitsch. Mr. Vaccarello purposefully made it into the latter.

Speaking before the show, Mr. Vaccarello said he was drawn to the 1980s because that’s the period of YSL that cool girls today source in vintage stores, and then customize and make their own. But there’s a reason those 1980s pieces ended up in resale shops as opposed to preserved for posterity. No joke.

This kind of denatured homage has become something of a rite of passage among new designers at heritage houses. Now that he’s done it, perhaps Mr. Vaccarello, who has a signature way with leather and a quiet conviction, can get past the obvious, start mining the essence and move on.

One designer who could tell him about the importance of learning from your own history is Olivier Theyskens, erstwhile crown prince of Parisian fashion, who after a tumultuous tour through three other brands (Rochas, Nina Ricci and Theory) and some time in the wilderness has returned with his first namesake collection since 2001: older, wiser and the better for it.

His signatures were all there — hook-and-eye closures on fluted leather or python minidresses; fluid jackets; Jane Eyre silhouettes (for governesses at the Hard Rock Academy anyway); boned bustiers and hip-slung trousers; even two ball gowns trailing wisps of gothic romance — but they had the serenity that comes from not needing to be a buzz-making machine anymore. Liberated from place or decade, they were simply good clothes, beautifully made. It was enough.