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Highsnobiety Commentary October, 17 2013

YSL vs. colette and the Current State of the Parody T-Shirt

Fashion is an arena where a sense of humor is needed to both comprehend some of the more challenging and inaccessible pieces that are presented, as well as to tolerate “parody” elements that have permeated countless collections and collaborations throughout the years. Recently, a riff occurred between Hedi Slimane of Saint Laurent and Sarah Andelman, the creative director and an owner of colette Paris, over a particular T-shirt that stated “Ain’t Laurent Without Yves.” Having been in business with one another since 1998, Saint Laurent decided to sever all ties with the retailer despite Andelman spending 440,000 euros for Laurent’s previous Spring and Fall 2013 collections. The question remains, who is in the right and who is in the wrong in this situation?

David Fischer

I could not really believe the story when it first surfaced. Of course the high-end fashion brand parody T-shirt market has been heating up for awhile. While always apparent in the streetwear market, the movement has gained such mainstream traction that I do understand why brands such as YSL are getting worried. As long as a small group of people are wearing niche brands with such parody slogans, things were all good.

Remember this though – parody T-shirts were in part present in streetwear to make a statement, but also most people wearing them could simply not afford the real deal. When brands such as FUCT, Freshjive and others flipped big brand logos, the T-shirts were sold in streetwear stores. Today, the parody T-shirts are sitting next to the actual brands that they are making fun of, in the same stores. colette, Browns London and others carry both Brian Lichtenberg and Ain’t Laurent Without Yves, as well as Saint Laurent, Gucci, Valentino and others. You see what happened here? And that is why we now have an issue.

Personally I am happy that brands such as SSUR can cash in on such a trend, simply because they have been so great at this game for such a long time, without gaining mainstream appeal. They deserve it I think. I also think (even if I do not personally like it) it’s impressive how somebody like Brian Lichtenberg has built an entire multi-million dollar business on parody logos. But at the same time we all know it’s a short trend that will not last forever and therefore I also do not understand the harsh reaction of Saint Laurent towards colette.

After all colette has carried YSL long before it carried the parody T-shirts and they would have carried YSL long after. Now I do hope that colette can stand firm in the case that YSL comes back around in the coming years and simply tells them to “go to hell!” A long-term partner you do not treat like this!

Pete Williams

Thinking about what happened with the YSL case and pondering on what happens next, I can only imagine that this is the first move in a much bigger backlash from the luxury players. We’ve waxed several times on the paradox of seeing satirical tees sitting side by side with their high-fashion counterparts. It’s been mentioned that the new generation of young buyers at some of these long-established retailers are now shaking up the brand mix, blending high and low, and that the streets are following suit or vice-versa.

One big factor in my eyes is that we’re seeing a generation raised on the internet taking center stage. This is a generation who grew up surrounded by remixes, parodies and blurred legal lines, particularly in the realm of intellectual property (think Napster, Megaupload, The Pirate Bay). So when you have all these kids eager to do what they please, break the rules, and make noise, it’s no wonder this type of business move feels reasonable or even deserved. The resounding feeling being “what’s the harm?”

When we spoke to Benjamin Fainlight, the founder of a high-fashion referencing label called LPD, he mentioned how he basically just made some shirts he wanted to wear. I’d like to think that’s where most of these brands are coming from. I mean kids make silly T-shirts all the time. I remember making parody Gucci, Burberry and Louis Vuitton tees back in 2002 or so.. It’s just that today you can actually sell 50 of them overnight via Tumblr. I imagine “Ain’t Laurent Without Yves” was born from a similar motive. A graphic someone enjoyed and through others would too. Hell, I’ve even seen some “Saint Laurent Montreal” tees kicking around town here in the city (one of the major streets in Montreal is boulevard Saint Laurent).

Are these small-time designers cutting into YSL’s market share? Not by any numbers that matter in the long term. By some accounts you can argue these types of graphics are actually increasing brand awareness for the luxury brands (whether it’s with the right people is another story). I do totally understand a brand wanting to protect itself, but when you’re at the stage that you’re a certified cultural icon, you need to let it go. This is not a Canal Street knockoff, it’s a tribute and to be honest, it’s doing nothing to the brand but making it look cooler.

In the case of LPD, it’s even been speculated that Riccardo Tisci of Givenchy was inspired by Benjamin in creating the Givenchy “PERVERT 17″ shirt last season. People would likely have been much more excited to see something along the lines of “IT MUST BE SAINT LAURENT WITH HEDI” emblazoned on an official YSL tee rather than a petty lawsuit with one of the most open-minded retailers in Paris. Think on that Hedi.

Brian Farmer

Not all parody T-shirts are good ideas, but occasionally there some great ones. I think the shirt in question, the one that reads “Ain’t Laurent Without Yves,” is one of the great ones. It isn’t simply a parody T-shirt that pokes fun at the brand, it’s a parody T-shirt that pokes fun directly at Hedi Slimane — for the recent name-change (from Yves Saint Laurent). It’s obvious that many people weren’t too thrilled about it, so I think this particular shirt was rather clever.

Do I think that Hedi Slimane and Saint Laurent should have severed their ties with colette? Absolutely not. The two brands have had a great relationship, and someone allows a parody T-shirt to get in the way of that? It’s childish. This could have been handled in a much different manner, a personal “fuck you” stationary from Hedi Slimane to Sarah Andelman (of colette) would have sufficed. And who knows, maybe this is only temporary.

Selectism