Nearly three years ago, I went to the retrospective Yves Saint Laurent exhibit in Denver and was giddy from all the detail I could see up-close-and-personal. Not long after that, there were announcements that new YSL designer Hedi Slimane had moved his design studio to my current town of Los Angeles and re-branded the ready-to-wear line of Yves Saint Laurent to Saint Laurent Paris. After seeing all the YSL finery in person, it was a bit of a shock that Slimane essentially wanted to burn the storied ready-to-wear line of YSL to the ground and take the brand in a different direction. Was Slimane going to go down in flames? Or did the gamble work?
Both. If you talk to longtime fans of the YSL brand, it’s a mixed bag of reviews because of the lack of reference, except for the first collection, to Yves (i.e. some felt Alber Elbaz’s recent Lanvin collection had more shades of YSL than Slimane’s did). Commercially though, the gamble has been hugely successful. Since taking over and changing the course of the brand, Hedi Slimane’s Saint Laurent has doubled its sales revenue. The biggest revenue generator lies within its shoes and leather goods, accounting for 66% of business. However, his ready-to-wear line is the brand’s fastest growing category, surging up 23% last year.
Before the re-launch we had a very small footwear business. Now Saint Laurent is one of our top ten [brands] at Barneys,” said Daniella Vitale, chief operating officer and senior executive vice president of Barneys New York.
Saint Laurent’s casual offerings of jeans, tees, leather and knits account for a third of the business sales. What sets the brand apart is that it offers a permanent collection every season – “biker jackets, baby doll dresses, pussy bows, duffle coats, trenches, skinny jeans, black sweatshirts, hoodies and high-tops”- within the 50 look new collection. These “investment pieces” never go out of style and are competitively priced against other luxury brands. The brand has also spends quite a bit in advertising, using rock and roll imagery and bands to both capture a younger clientele and younger aesthetic, that’s more on par with bigger brands. The brand has also become more accessible via its wholesale business with high-end department and boutique stores, and opening up a number of new stores.
Why do I find this interesting, you may ask? We seem to be in the middling road of nothing being sent down the runway that’s editorial and innovative but conversely there a whole lot of things that aren’t truly wearable in the every day. I think offering wearable, saleable foundation pieces is important to offer, and Slimane is certainly capitalizing on that void in the marketplace.
And while Hedi Slimane’s business model of revival without respect to YSL’s past has paid off in sales, it’s not the only business model that works. Raf Simons for Dior has done the same, but within the confines and respect to the brand. More on that in an upcoming post…