Timeless style – updated: Yves Saint Laurent

The turtleneck, the tailoring, the tulip skirt... it's all classic Yves Saint Laurent – but with a twist. Creative director Stefano Pilati tells Susannah Frankel why nothing in fashion should stay the same. Not for long, at least

'Iwas thinking about power, and about a powerful woman," says the Yves Saint Laurent designer Stefano Pilati. "But not a powerful woman in the sense that she is a CEO or anything like that. Instead, this woman is powerful with confidence, with experience, dressed well but, at the same time, quite cool."

If anything exemplifies the look that Vogue recently described as "the new austere", and, indeed, the suitably modern take on power-dressing that appears to go hand in hand with that, it must surely be the autumn/winter collection courtesy of this, perhaps the most iconic of French brands. All the time-honoured signatures are in place: the black turtleneck that Yves Saint Laurent himself famously sent out on to the haute- couture catwalk as part of his seminal 1960 Beat collection inspired by Parisian street style; the tailoring borrowed from menswear but adapted to suit the feminine form; the classic tulip skirt; and the colour co-ordination touching everything from accessories to models' lipstick – in this instance, all are black.

The experimentation with volume seen throughout the collection – either subtle or overt – is what makes it seem fresh, however, and also gives it a sense of understated luxury. "The volumes for me are what define the difference between high- end and low-end fashion," Pilati explains. "The clothes may be quite simple on one level – it's not like haute couture, there's no embroidery, they are what they are – but there's no point whatsoever going to a store such as Zara, for example, to find these clothes. The time and the research that has gone into making the patterns are what makes them appealing."

The volumes in question, Pilati elaborates, are inspired – and this seems, on the face of it, more surprising – by sport. "Yes, I was thinking about sport in the sense of general inspiration and as it relates to mental attitude, about the performance of the fabric, how you treat the curves in the pattern, but also about the idea of people having to perform constantly. I used Donegal tweed, felt, cashmere, often unlined. Clothes were either very fitted or large. For a few seasons now, I have attempted to go back to the essence of clothes, to think about what they really mean. I want there to be a sense of functionality and even utility to the collections."

When, two years ago now, Pilati came up with a collection that was comparatively masculine, oversized and almost entirely grey, it represented something of a departure for the Yves Saint Laurent look. Until that point, a basically bourgeois, fitted, hourglass silhouette, embellished with classic couture staples, from gold braid to jewelled encrustations, waterfall ruffles and frills, had been the order of the day at this label. The Italian-born Pilati understood it well, and for that reason his creations were embraced by everyone, from the more mature Saint Laurent customer who had invested in the name when its eponymous founder was still at the helm, to a younger, more obviously fashion-conscious consumer for whom there was a certain irony to wearing the sort of clothes that her mother and even grandmother would adore.

The restless energy that characterises any great designer was, in Pilati, very much in evidence, however, and so, having perfected this particular style, Pilati moved on. The severity and comparative minimalism of his approach from then on was seen at the time as quite radical – and even risky. Elsewhere, fashion was, at that point, still dominated by clothes that looked as obviously expensive as their price tags indicated.

This is how the designer himself describes this development. "When I first took over at Yves Saint Laurent, I was testing the imagery, trying to find out what Saint Laurent meant to people, everybody had an opinion. The only pushing I did was gentle. Once I was confident that I understood certain basic codes, I moved more towards experimentation. I started to find my own way."

It is worth noting, however, that any innovation aside, the effortless elegance for which the Yves Saint Laurent name is known remains proudly in place. What's more, by now, the rest of the world has caught up with this designer. In his hands, Yves Saint Laurent is today recognised as one of the more pioneering names in Parisian fashion, one that moves things forward as opposed to being overly reliant on past glories, all be they considerable.

This season, the Yves Saint Laurent look appears more appropriate than ever. There is little place for frivolity or ostentatious self-adornment just now, after all. Instead, a sombre colour palette, a covered-up silhouette, and a return to what may perhaps best be described as a "working wardrobe" is de rigueur, and nobody does that better or more imaginatively just now than this particular designer.

More importantly, Yves Saint Laurent collections are evolutionary rather than revolutionary: they develop seasonally, as opposed to introducing a grand new idea every six months, and then throwing it out for yet another ideathe next.

"I'm building the house, the history, the heritage, the continuity," says Pilati. "I am aware of the huge amount of choice there is in fashion, and I think that may be confusing. If you are a fashion designer, you need to make the effort to be quite identifiable in a very precise, simple way. Pushing people to buy, buy, buy just because they think they need to, or, more significantly, because we need them to, and seducing them with ephemeral codes is not right."

Brave words indeed, particularly coming from such a high-profile fashion talent. Above all, though, Pilati says, this collection represents a subtle view of female sexuality over and above an overt one, an aesthetic that is suggestive as opposed to plain obvious, which seems entirely relevant for now.

Pilati's reasoning is at least partly pragmatic. "We are talking about a winter collection here," he says, laughing. "And I think it is important for there to be something to discover about a woman, for a look to be not too in-your-face."

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
News
news
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
New Articles
i100... with this review
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Voices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
Sport
footballTim Sherwood: This might be th match to wake up Manchester City
Arts and Entertainment
musicHow female vocalists are now writing their own hits
New Articles
i100
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
News
Blahnik says: 'I think I understand the English more than they do themselves'
people
Arts and Entertainment
Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Crawley in Downton Abbey
TVInside Downton Abbey series 5
Life and Style
The term 'normcore' was given the oxygen of publicity by New York magazine during the autumn/winter shows in Paris in February
fashionWhen is a trend a non-trend? When it's Normcore, since you ask
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Fashion

    Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

    £30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

    Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

    £22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

    SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

    £1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

    Research Manager - Quantitative/Qualitative

    £32000 - £42000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

    Day In a Page

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam