The Kering-owned fashion house announced his appointment today.
On Friday, Saint Laurent confirmed that Slimane would exit as creative and image director at the end of his “four-year mission.”
It would only say that “a new creative organization for the house will be communicated in due course.”
A designer partial to the hot-blooded, daring side of fashion, Vaccarello is to become the sixth ready-to-wear designer at YSL. Successors to the legendary couturier, who retired from couture in 2002 and died in 2008 at the age of 71, also included Alber Elbaz, Tom Ford and Stefano Pilati.
Born in Brussels, Vaccarello studied sculpture at La Cambre, and came onto the international fashion radar in 2006 when he won first place at the Hyères International Festival of Fashion and Photography for his collection inspired by Italian porn star La Cicciolina.
He subsequently went on to work at Fendi and in 2009 launched his namesake collection in Paris, where he continues to show. Two years later, he scooped the ANDAM fashion award.
Impressed by his provocatively sexy and audacious styles, Donatella Versace in 2013 tapped Vaccarello as a guest designer for her revamped Versus brand. In September, she named him the creative director of Versus, putting him in charge of the men’s and women’s collections under her supervision. His first full collection was for fall 2015 retailing.
The 33-year-old designer’s impending appointment at Saint Laurent marks an end to his Versus collaboration, Versace confirmed.
Vaccarello is known mainly for sharp, asymmetric tailoring and saucy dresses — not far from the sweet spot Slimane carved out during his rock-’n’-roll-tinged tenure.
For his fall collection, Vaccarello broke out of his short and sexy mold — slightly — by parading a more diverse collection whose floral prints on knit dresses verged on romantic.
Question marks around the choice of Vaccarello include men’s wear, which he had only designed for Versus. Global ad campaigns and retail concepts would also be new turf for the indie designer, whose brand is distributed via such wholesale accounts as Net-a-porter.com, Nordstrom, Intermix and Kirna Zabête.
On Friday, top management at Kering and Saint Laurent heaped praise on Slimane’s latest tenure as the legendary fashion house’s creative and image director.
“What Yves Saint Laurent has achieved over the past four years represents a unique chapter in the history of the house,” said François-Henri Pinault, chairman and CEOof Kering. “I am very grateful to Hedi Slimane, and the whole Yves Saint Laurent team, for having set the path that the house has successfully embraced and which will grant longevity to this legendary brand.”
YSL CEO Francesca Bellettini echoed her boss: “The direction that has been taken over the last four years represents an incredible foundation for the brand to build on for its continuous success.”
In the fourth quarter, revenues at Saint Laurent catapulted 37.4 percent to 287 million euros, or $318.2 million, a 27.4 percent gain stripping out the impact of currencies.
Saint Laurent recorded revenues of 974 million euros, or $1.08 billion, last year with a network of 142 stores — far fewer locations than megabrands such as Gucci, Dior, Chanel or Louis Vuitton.
Thomas Chauvet, luxury analyst at Citi, downplayed the impact of Slimane’s exit on YSL’s future performance, arguing its growth prospects and potential for margin expansion remain intact.
In a research note, Chauvet noted the brand registered its highest operating margin ever in the second half of 2015 — about 20 percent — and this should rise on scale effects, more leather goods sales, pricing, maturity of the store network and “better absorption of fixed costs.”
Citi estimates Saint Laurent should contribute 15 percent of group sales and 12 percent of earnings before interest and taxes growth over the next three years, up from 8 and 9 percent, respectively, at present.
“The strategy is unlikely to change materially post-Slimane’s departure and we believe that the Saint Laurent brand will capitalize on its solid foundations and strong DNA,” Chauvet noted.
He added that Saint Laurent management told analysts the company would “mark a pause in the brand development and not overexpand the retail network to protect exclusivity.”
Former YSL couture boss Pierre Bergé, and one of Slimane’s biggest champions, declined to comment on his exit.
Saint Laurent muse Betty Catroux, who never missed a Slimane show or a chance to wear one of his fringed leather jackets and skinny jeans, confessed she felt “desperate” at news of his exit.
“Hedi, like Yves, marked the history of fashion like no one ever did. It was the rebirth of the Saint Laurent spirit and seduction. I was high for four years thanks to him,” she said. “I am not worried about Hedi’s future: He has the magic touch.”
Vaccarello is to step into a brand reinvented top-to-bottom by Slimane, an exacting image maker who exerted total control over Saint Laurent’s collections, ad campaigns, store design and communications strategy, linking the brand with his personal penchant for indie rock and California cool.
Returning to design after five years devoted to photography and art making, Slimane revved up YSL with a “reform project” that touched everything from the collection architecture and carrier bags to the VIP discounts at its boutiques. He abbreviated the logo to simply “Saint Laurent” and moved its center of operations to Los Angeles from Paris.
Slimane bid adieu to YSL for the second time in 16 years in dramatic fashion, having staged his fall men’s show in L.A. on Feb. 10 as part of “Saint Laurent at the Palladium,” an event that attracted the likes of Lady Gaga; Jessica Alba; Kate Hudson; Justin Bieber; Demi Moore; Lenny Kravitz, Lisa Bonet and Zoe Kravitz; Elle and Dakota Fanning; Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi; Gia Coppola; Eva and Asia Chow; Alexa Chung; Miranda Kerr; Jessica Stam; Elizabeth Olsen; Tallulah, Rumer and Scout Willis; Langley Fox and Dree Hemingway; Emma Roberts; Dominick Sherwood; Sam Taylor-Johnson; Zac Efron, and Sylvester Stallone.
Slimane conceived the event as a tribute to the music scene in L.A., the Frenchman’s home since 2008. It also coincided with 10 years of the designer’s photo blog, “Hedi Slimane’s Diary,” which has frequently documented the California scene.
His women’s show in Paris on March 7 was more intimate, staged at the brand’s Rue de l’Université couture salons with no music as he paraded what some saw as a parody of Eighties fashion excess.
Slimane’s exit delivered another shock to the French fashion scene, shaken late last year by the departure of Raf Simons from Dior and the ousting of Alber Elbaz from Lanvin. That fashion house recently named Bouchra Jarrar as its new women’s designer, while Dior has yet to name a successor.
The dramatic changes seem to signal a seismic shift in the fashion industry as star designers buckle under the pressures and/or restrictions of an accelerating and high-stakes industry.
The changing of the guard at YSL will spark another guessing game about Slimane’s next move.
An art history graduate from the Ecole du Louvre, he emerged from fashion’s shadows during his first stint at YSL. Hired as an assistant in fashion marketing at YSL in 1997 and quickly promoted to designer, Slimane successfully revved up the label’s Rive Gauche Homme collection with sleek, androgynous tailoring: leather trenchcoats, pinch-waist suits and plunging shirts. He was a pioneer in inviting contemporary artists like Ugo Rondinone to put works in YSL stores, positing his clothes in a broader cultural context.
He resigned from YSL in 2000 to pursue exclusive negotiations with its parent, then known as Gucci Group, for the launch of his own label. He ended up signing on with luxury rival Dior, embarking on an ambitious project that electrified men’s wear with his glitzy fashion shows and minimalist boutiques. He would go on to popularize skinny black suits and rock-tinged androgyny.
Slimane exited Dior in 2007 and pursued a photography and art career before returning to the fashion fold in 2012 at the creative helm of YSL, which he rechristened Saint Laurent to return to the initial impulses in the Sixties that drove the late, legendary couturier to introduce ready-to-wear. He succeeded Stefano Pilati after a fruitful, if turbulent, eight-year tenure for the Italian designer.
From his base in L.A., Slimane overhauled the house with a new graphic identity; a widely copied store concept involving acres of veiny marble and gleaming shelves, and influential, mostly black-and-white campaigns lensed by the designer himself featuring a cast of music personalities and edgy models.
While he received barbs from critics for repetitive collections inspired by grunge and other music subcultures, retailers raved about the sell-through of the new styles and Saint Laurent under Slimane charted rapid growth, outpacing most other designer brands as the luxury sector entered a period of more moderate expansion.
Slimane has been floated as a possible successor to Simons at Dior, although sources close to the situation said he is not a candidate and would never be granted the wide creative berth he enjoyed at Saint Laurent. At present, Dior has Kris Van Assche designing men’s wear, Victoire de Castellane in charge of high jewelry, Peter Marino masterminding the store architecture — and a host of famous ambassadors, including Jennifer Lawrence and Marion Cotillard.
He is said to have coveted control over YSL’s beauty business, but did not hold any sway with the operation, controlled by L’Oréal, which acquired the business in 2008. As a result, he had distanced himself from its products and marketing messages.
It is understood the designer intends to remain in America, and owns a lavish apartment in New York in addition to his home in L.A. Some sources suggested Slimane could tap his well-heeled California contacts to raise capital should he wish to launch a signature brand.