Ready To Wear: The fashion merry-go-round takes yet another turn


The rumours surrounding Paris's major brands may do big business no harm, but one can only feel for the designers who are forced to complete collections while the rest of the world wonders who may – or may not – step into their shoes. This applies more than most to Stefano Pilati, who will stage his show for Yves Saint Laurent in Paris this evening.

Six months ago speculation concerning Hedi Slimane's imminent arrival as his successor filled the news pages. That never happened, clearly. Now, and at the time of writing, it is the turn of Raf Simons to take over, according to insider gossip at least. The motives behind all of this are unclear and, given the cloak-and-dagger, behind-the-scenes politics of the fashion industry, chances are that they will remain that way. But should Pilati move on – whether it be by choice or at the behest of his management – it would be a great loss to the label.

The designer has been at Yves Saint Laurent since 2002 and has single-handedly given it a new lease of life. Given the reputation that surrounds the name, it's all too easy to forget that when he took the helm it was floundering. After Saint Laurent's retirement from the ready-to-wear arm in the late 1990s, Alber Elbaz was initially employed but lasted only two seasons before being unceremoniously ousted. Later, and having found considerable success at Lanvin, the designer made no secret of the crisis of confidence he had suffered while there.

Elbaz was cast aside by none other than Tom Ford, of course, then creative director of the Gucci Group, which acquired Yves Saint Laurent in 1999. Ford wanted Yves Saint Laurent for himself, the story went, but the world watched on as he failed to revitalise it in the way he had done at Gucci.

And then came Pilati, who from day one demonstrated an understanding of the Yves Saint Laurent heritage on so many levels and duly re-invented it for a modern audience to great – and entirely deserved – critical acclaim. And he has continued to do so.

From Rive Gauche polka-dot frills to grande bourgeoise elegance, and from the almost ascetic purity of oversized tailoring to the grace of this autumn's languid Le Smoking Pilati, he has more than delivered season after season, and for that alone he should be applauded.

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