Saint Laurent Fall 2019 Ready-To-Wear

How should a creative director address the legacy of the designer whose house they inherit? It’s a question made newly relevant by the passing of the great Karl Lagerfeld in Paris last week. And it’s a subject that came to mind as Anthony Vaccarello’s superconfident new collection for Saint Laurent marched past—starting with look number 2, a broad-shouldered, ivory wool coat modeled by a 21st-century doppelgänger of the YSL muse Betty Catroux, complete with signature sideswept peroxide mane and black shades.

Since his arrival nearly three years ago, Vaccarello has seemed comfortable to explore the parts of Yves Saint Laurent’s legacy that most closely align with his own—briefly: anything short, short, short. But spanning 40 years as it does, YSL’s oeuvre is vast. Vaccarello’s latest explored several eras or moments of that legacy, but the aspect that had everyone in the audience so jazzed tonight was the tailoring, which was strong, almost man-size, and focused on the shoulders. In a preview, Vaccarello said he spent six months getting the proportions right and that they were built up with padding to extend two centimeters beyond the shoulder seams.

“The show pieces are all done by hand,” he explained. “We’ll have to figure out how to perfect it [in the factory].”

Vaccarello is loath to psychoanalyze his motivations, but many in the audience were fully prepared to do so. There’s an old-fashioned rivalry brewing in Paris (something that YSL and Lagerfeld knew plenty about, as it happens; read The Beautiful Fall for all the fabulous details), and competition, as they say, is good for business. As for why Instagram lit up afterward with photos of those boss coats, Vaccarello does have a theory. “She’s not making war; she’s not a combatant. But she is really strong; she’s fearless.” Many of us respond to that silhouette, especially in our current dark times.

The designer’s other subjects this season were YSL’s Opium moment and the haute couture “Scandal” collection of Spring 1971. The former produced all manner of lavishly worked beaded evening jackets, worn with micro-shorts, Swiss-dot stockings, and knee boots for a modern vibe. The latter was Vaccarello’s Pop reinterpretation of Saint Laurent’s own revisionist take on World War II–era clothing, which was critically panned at the time but went on to become influential in the street. This section of the show was harder to see, with the models walking behind a wall of glass, in black light, with a Yayoi Kusama Infinity Room mirror situation behind them. Vaccarello has made a signature of these “second acts,” but this collection hardly needed one. He had most of us at that coat inspired by Betty Catroux.