Fashion is a protean creature and those who enter into it without the ability to move swiftly with the times do so only at their peril. The most gifted designers, meanwhile, have the insight not only to keep up with the Zeitgeist but to predict their customer's needs even before she has identified them for herself. A case in point is the creative director of Yves Saint Laurent, Stefano Pilati.
Three seasons ago, Pilati ditched the proudly bourgeois, hour-glass silhouette that he had perfected for this great French house and replaced it with something rather more austere and comparatively voluminous in style. The look was predominantly neutral in hue – although with the odd flash of vivid colour which the Yves Saint Laurent name is famous for; understated but luxurious none the less. The point was that the customer – and indeed any onlooker with an eye for fashion – would know the value of the clothes, both aesthetically and materially, but that there was nothing even remotely ostentatious about the look as a whole. Suffice it to say that a year and a half on, Pilati is still upholding these values. The difference is, however, that now the rest of the world has caught up with him, from the catwalk down.
Last year, meanwhile, Yves Saint Laurent introduced a new line – Edition 24 – priced more reasonably than the main line though boasting the same discreetly opulent sensibility. Not only is Edition 24 more affordable, and therefore accessible to a broader clientele, but also it stays in store for a year, as opposed to merely a few months, representing a kick in the teeth for fast fashion. And here too, Pilati was ahead of his time.
"A wardrobe of essentials doesn't need to be defined or locked in to a particular season," says the designer today. "Edition 24 is about season-less dressing, versatility. It's a response to the needs of a modern woman's lifestyle where she moves from city to city, from office to airplane and so on. It is wonderful to have an expression that is pure fashion, which is the runway collection, but we also have to be connected to social issues, to think about how women live today." If you were to think that such practical concerns are always at the top of any self-respecting designer's list, then that is by no means the case.
"This is a collection of keepsake classics, inflected by the essential codes of the house," Pilati continues. Certainly, there are more than a few pieces that are quintessential Yves Saint Laurent in flavour, from the safari jacket – the ultimate in luxe travel outerwear – to elegant column dresses, and from the trench coat – at its most chic when pale and interesting – to the printed silk blouse.
Yves Saint Laurent Edition 24 unsurprisingly comprises 24 looks. The second collection arrives at Yves Saint Laurent boutiques this month and is subtly inspired by travel: "Morocco, Egypt, Romania, Peru, Native America, Scandinavia ..." The mood of the collection aside, the more accessible price point is clearly a significant draw although Pilati insists that quality is in no way compromised. "The same standards of quality and craftsmanship are applied with Edition 24," he argues. "It is a question of order volume, of economics, that creates the price differential." Put simply, if a collection sells in greater volume then the price of both materials and manufacture decreases and that can only be good news for the customer, whoever she may be.
Much has been said recently about the democratisation of fashion and that tends to refer to high-street interpretations of designer originals, but it has wider implications than that, affecting not only the copycats but the designers themselves. "Through Edition 24 I am able to consider and project my fashion, and my aesthetic sensibility, on a large scale," Pilati confirms. "This collection enables us to make fashion big and give beauty to the mainstream. It's about widening the net." Neither is the Yves Saint Laurent core customer averse to adding to her wardrobe with pieces that are slightly more straightforward and therefore less immediately identifiable. "You want a woman to be able to find everything she wants in your brand, whether it's very high fashion or fashionable practicality. This gives you something you can always rely on, no matter where you are."
Saint Laurent, 172-173 Sloane Street, SW1, enquiries 020-7235 6706; ysl.com
Model: Mariana at Select
Make-up and hair: Ninni Nummela using
Photographer’s assistant: Amy Gwatkin
Stylist’s assistant: Orsolya Szabo
Prints by Daren Catlin at Bayeux
Shot on location at Le Sirenuse Hotel, Positano, Italy.
Opened in 1951 it has 63 luxurious rooms, suites and junior suites. Visit www.lesirenuse.com; call 00 39 089 875 066.
With thanks toFranco and Antonio Sersale