Welcome to the dark side: Yves Saint Laurent's understated new collection

Stefano Pilati's new collection for Yves Saint Laurent is an unapologetic celebration of understated luxury. Susannah Frankel enjoys a taste of the black stuff

'Yves Saint Laurent's fall/winter collection is a break from the past, in many shades of black," read the notes for the show, staged in Paris last March. "As Mr Saint Laurent himself used to say: 'There is not just one black, but many blacks.'" Of course, it doesn't take the most feted designer of the 20th century to tell anyone even remotely interested in fashion that. Consumers buy black because it is flattering and easy to put together. Designers work with it because it puts all the emphasis on proportion, texture and cut, and it is extremely versatile. There are many kinds of black, indeed.

The little black dress pictured here is certainly the finest of its kind this season. It is as pretty as the proverbial picture, yet statuesque. This is very much in line with what its designer is thinking right now, and it represents something of a departure from the classically French, often unashamedly bourgeois, signature that he has given the world.

"I thought I needed to go back to the essence of the clothes," says Stefano Pilati, creative director of the Yves Saint Laurent label and responsible for both womenswear and menswear. "I thought about what the clothes mean and what it means to be a designer today." And to Pilati, being a designer meant paying more attention than ever to the pattern of a garment. "I am interested in the cut, in the volumes and in an element of opulence. I thought I was expressing real luxe with this collection but also anti-opulence, as it is perceived in the conventional way."

This dress is an idiosyncratic take on Le Smoking, the tuxedo that Yves Saint Laurent gave to haute couture womenswear in the late Sixties. He introduced women to a style that was the preserve of men's evening attire in order to relieve them of the whimsical froth that constituted their feminine alternative. Pilati is designing for a very different generation; still, any frills and flounces here are more rigorously executed, and even austere, in a very slightly twisted way.

"I wanted it to be political," says Pilati, and in this, too, he is following in the footsteps of the house's founder, who opened his first ready-to-wear boutique in 1968, the year of the French student riots, and dedicated haute couture collections - then staid, well-mannered affairs - to street styles as diverse as biker jackets and turtleneck sweaters. "We are constantly at war somewhere. Everywhere, people are dying," says Pilati. "What am I going to do - sequins and crystal everywhere? That didn't feel right. And so, I tried to be as focused as I could be on the cut of the clothes and to evoke a feeling of simplicity. I think it looks very Rive Gauche. Very Yves Saint Laurent, in its way."

Although Saint Laurent was a great colourist, he knew that black had its place centre-stage in fashion. For all the extravagance of his designs, he was a great pragmatist, putting the needs of the women who wore his clothes before his own ego - an unusual strategy in the designer-fashion arena. Pilati employs a similar approach. It should come as no great surprise, then, when he says: "My vision is only my vision if people respond to it and I respond to them and their needs. That's why I used only grey, blue and black. It's because it's the reality. I mean, who wants to wear yellow in winter?"

Although vibrant colour is not entirely off the agenda this season - everyone from Prada to Lanvin explored it - the sobriety of Pilati's collection lends it a certain dignity; instead of pandering to high-impact instant gratification this has a quieter beauty. "You might wear a colourful blouse, but you really want to wear pale green and have to wash it every time you go out. It's a little insane and, perhaps, for the sake of the press who like colour in their magazines."

In fact, in a collection that also features roomy coats, masculine suits and shoes adapted from a smart yet sensible style, this dress is frivolous by comparison. "It's just about a nice attitude, a nice feeling," Pilati says. "Maybe women will appreciate that."

If it all sounds wonderfully simple, it's worth noting that this is a highly luxurious offering, one that demonstrates a return to fine workmanship and discreet elegance - with a price tag to match. It seems all the more, well, bold for it - and, not insignificantly, more difficult to copy.

"Once you have a beautiful garment, with a beautiful cut, in a beautiful fabric, you don't need to do anything else. You don't need to make it bling. That's the direction I'm interested in moving Yves Saint Laurent in."

Given that Italian-born Pilati has become one of international fashion's main players, anyone even remotely interested in the way forward would do well to sit up and take note. Putting his money where his mouth is for the Yves Saint Laurent spring/summer 2008 season, more sober tailoring is the order of the day, some of it in nothing more obviously flashy than grey marl. True, mirrored stars add a certain lightness to the collection, for which devotees will have to wait until early next year.

Otherwise, the most beautifully proportioned trouser suits the catwalk has seen for some time, as well as more feminine, but still restrained, silk dresses that are anything but throwaway, are a continuation of a rigorously disciplined and lovely story.

The cartoon produced by Bruce MacKinnon for the Halifax Chronicle-Herald on Thursday, showing the bronze soldiers of the war memorial in Ottawa welcoming Corporal Cirillo into their midst
Funds raised from the sale of poppies help the members of the armed forces with financial difficulties
voicesLindsey German: The best way of protecting soldiers is to stop sending them into disastrous conflicts
Nigel Farage has backed DJ Mike Read's new Ukip song
voicesNigel Farage: Where is the Left’s outrage over the sexual abuse of girls in the North of England?
One bedroom terraced house for sale, Richmond Avenue, Islington, London N1. On with Winkworths for £275,000.
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
The Edge and his wife, Morleigh Steinberg, at the Academy Awards in 2014
peopleGuitarist faces protests over plan to build mansions in Malibu
peopleFox presenter gives her less than favourable view of women in politics
Mario Balotelli has been accused of 'threateningly' telling a woman to stop photographing his Ferrari
peoplePolice investigate claim Balotelli acted 'threateningly' towards a woman photographing his Ferrari
Life and Style
The Zinger Double Down King, which is a bun-less burger released in Korea
food + drinkKFC unveils breadless meat beast
Arts and Entertainment
A shared vision: Cerys Matthews has been familiarising herself with Dylan Thomas’s material, for a revealing radio programme
arts + entsA singer, her uncle and a special relationship with Dylan Thomas
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Fashion

    SSRS Report Developer - Urgent Contract - London - £300pd

    £300 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: SSRS Report Developer – 3 Mon...

    KS1 Teacher

    £95 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Key Stage 1 teacher require...

    HR Business Partner - Essex - £39,000 plus benefits

    £32000 - £39000 per annum + benefits + bonus: Ashdown Group: Generalist HR Man...

    Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £18000 - £30000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Do you feel like your sales role...

    Day In a Page

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

    Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
    Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

    Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

    The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
    Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

    'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

    The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
    Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

    Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

    A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
    The 10 best smartphone accessories

    Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

    Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

    Liverpool v Real Madrid

    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
    West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster