After months of rumors and speculation, last week it was finally announced that Hedi Slimane would step down as creative director of Saint Laurent. The 48-year-old designer leaves some rather large shoes to fill - under his leadership, the legendary house was modernized and revitalized to huge success, becoming the go-to brand for the rich and famous while profits skyrocketed.
That's not to say Slimane was without his detractors, though. His self-styled "Reform Project" was all-encompassing - he revamped flagship stores, shot the house's advertising campaigns himself, relocated its design studio to LA and revived its couture collection - but only for those he personally deemed worthy.
Most controversially, Slimane dropped "Yves" from the house's communications, rebranding the maison simply as "Saint Laurent Paris." That particular move caused outrage among high-fashion purists, many of whom regard Yves Saint Laurent as the greatest designer of all time - the rebrand even prompted a swathe of dire parody T-shirts. To say Hedi Slimane was a love-or-hate figure in high fashion would be a grand understatement ("It's like someone painting bad paintings and signing them Picasso," The Independent's Alexander Fury commented on his re-working of the legendary house.)
In contrast, Slimane's replacement is Anthony Vaccarello, a modest Belgian, who previously worked under Karl Lagerfeld at Fendi, before launching his eponymous womenswear line in 2011. Just last year, he was tapped by Donatella Versace to head up both men's and womenswear at Versace's sub-label Versus (whose previous creative directors include such prominent names as J.W. Anderson and Christopher Kane, FYI). The softly-spoken Belgian designer was described by Harper's Bazaar as "the definition of unperturbed...resolutely low-key about seemingly everything" - a far cry from Slimane, who seemed to court controversy at every turn, and wasn't afraid of the occasional headline-grabbing feud, either.
Vacarello's work is provocatively feminine: his dresses frequently sport thigh-high slits and angular cutaways, like the one worn by Anja Rubik to the 2012 Met Gala. Indeed, the designer has made a habit of dressing famous women - Gisele Bündchen, Jennifer Lopez, and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley have all donned his creations on the red carpet. That connection with the rich and famous will no doubt come in handy when taking over from Slimane, who was notoriously fond of A-list megastars - his FW16 show was relocated to Hollywood, and its front row featured everyone from Justin Bieber to Sylvester Stallone.
In his short tenure at Versace's streetwise diffusion line, Vaccarello re-worked the parent label's codes for a younger audience - it's a darker, sportier, youthful vision of the Italian house's baroque opulence. Again, that street-level understanding of what cool, young people like to wear will no doubt be of great use when working at Saint Laurent, which has so successfully wooed big-spending millennials. While it's not clear who will be replacing him at Versus, Vacarrello's own line will be put on hold while he works at Saint Laurent.
What does this regime change mean for the future, though? How will Anthony Vaccarello alter the house that Yves built - if at all?
Hedi Slimane was an exceptionally divisive figure, but from a financial standpoint, he was astronomically successful. Within three years, the maison's sales more than doubled, and last year eclipsed the $1 billion mark. Chinese luxury chain Lane Crawford reported triple digit sales growth for Saint Laurent during Slimane's tenure. In the final quarter of 2015, sales were up 27.4% - and that's when the luxury market as a whole is experiencing a worldwide slow-down. To achieve that level of financial success in such a short time is nothing short of miraculous.
At the same time, Saint Laurent became the go-to brand for celebrities, musicians and tastemakers of all stripes, largely thanks to Slimane’s highly accessible, rock 'n’ roll-tinged aesthetic. The wearable staples in the brand's Permanent Collection - think leather jackets, biker jeans, teddy jackets and Chelsea boots - are smash hits across the globe, particularly for men growing out of streetwear's sneakers-and-sweats look. It's a very modern approach to fashion: one that forgets weighty high-brow concepts in favor of accessibility and visual punch.
Given the runaway success that was Slimane-era Saint Laurent, it's unlikely that Vaccarello will toy with his predecessor's winning formula too much - and you imagine his new bosses at Kering will be wanting things to be very much business-as-usual when it comes to the house's commercial performance. Plus, Vaccarello himself is a fan. "I have a lot of respect for [Slimane], doing what he believes in. He doesn't give a shit," he told Harper's Bazaar.
We expect the Permanent Collection will remain exactly that - permanent - while wardrobe staples and punchy statement pieces keep the cash registers chiming. Perhaps Vaccarello will be replacing Hedi's grungy thrift-store-luxe, with his own polished, sexually-charged glamour. We can hope he'll forget the cringeworthy novelty pieces dotted throughout recent Saint Laurent collections, though, like this obnoxiously awful $450 tuxedo T-shirt.
By the way, it's worth noting that Kering's official press release referred to the house by its original monicker - Yves Saint Laurent. Does that mean another rebrand is on the cards or are they simply referring to the brand in its grand historical sense? Only time will tell on that one.
Anthony Vaccarello will present his first collection for Saint Laurent in October during Paris's SS17 womenswear week, while his men's debut will likely follow in January 2017.
The views and opinions expressed in this piece are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the position of Highsnobiety as a whole.