Late last week, some slightly (but not that) shocking news broke that fashion’s most beloved LA rocker boy Hedi Slimane would be stepping down from Saint Laurent. Slimane’s tenure was marked with mini-skirting punk sensibilities and literal name dropping, qualities that charmed his young fashionable fans while leaving traditionalists with a bitter sting on the palate. Slimane did not keep Yves’ dream alive. He took the dream elsewhere.
What’s most fascinating to me is that among the talks of if Hedi did good or if Hedi did bad is Yves Saint Laurent himself: he is absent, dead, and a memory brought up only by name. He’s gone from person to idea to brand: he is beyond himself. Normally, someone passes away and their story ends, twirling smaller and smaller until there isn’t a story anymore. In contemporary, consumer heavy culture, this isn’t an option: Yves Saint Laurent cannot die thus someone like Hedi Slimane will be brought in to animate his corpse—and literal name—to make it dance around in a fast fashionable way and make people giddy and balk at what he’s doing. You know that moment in Drag Me To Hell where the possessed man dances atop of the table in evil happiness that Alison Lohman’s character is going to die? It kind of feels like that.
Slimane did some great work while at YSL and, no, I personally do not appreciate his overhyped aesthetic—but I appreciate that he tried. You can say the same about Raf at Dior and Wang at Balenciaga and even Sarah Burton at Alexander McQueen. The only odd thing is that, like Slimane, none of these people are the names behind the brands. Why do we need YSL and Dior and Balenciaga and McQueen to continue? Why do we care about these old names, these Disneys and Fords of fashion?
Seeing Slimane exit was more than a wake up to a troubling cycle of creative vampirism but that these dead bodies of designers are forced alive just because they are more than a person. Poor YSL cannot sleep in his grave because giant luxury daddies like Kering and LVMH must keep them awake to dance that dead dance to make them more money, to sell perfume to our mothers and dresses to that one rich friend you know. These brands are less about their original couture intent, when making clothing was sweet and sophisticated and literal luxury. Now? It’s just a guise, a performance for money. A show of high fashion that is just a dead body covered in hopeful trend making.
Why can’t a brand like YSL just die? Who needs YSL now? What is YSL without the Y? Same with Valentino. Same with McQueen. Same with whatever other old fashion brand that is a body without its head. Do we want a Versace without Donatella? A Viktor & Rolf without Viktor & Rolf? A Thom Browne or a Marc Jacobs without their colorful figureheads? No—so why are we doing this with these old brands? Yes, money and, yes, the undying memories of photographs and articles and Internet clickholes that reinforce the status of these dead people. It’s a monarchical system that, as we can see by the disappearance of royal families, is passé. No one wants a handful of names to rule the world. We want to see the new Wangs and Rafs and Burtons and Slimanes to rise, pushing the past aside.
So what will Slimane do next? He’ll succeed. He’ll continue his LA dawdling to his LA dawdlers and will thrive in Hollywood. He will continue creating what he would have made at YSL without the dead name attached to him. We’ll remember his time at “Saint Laurent” as the brand rises and falls and rises and falls into infinity. Yet, it feels strangely comic, like a commercial that just won’t end.
(And we’ll see what happens with the recent appointment of Anthony Vaccarello, which is as surprising a choice as it is interesting.)