Back in 1982 – the year Anthony Vaccarello was born – Yves Saint Laurent declared, “I am no longer concerned with sensation and innovation, but with the perfection of my style.” What that indicated was a shift from a decade of relentless, often controversial invention and innovation – his Ballet Russes collection of deluxe hippy clothes, his Chinese and Can-Can-inspired collections, his much-lambasted 1971 Liberation show, based on 1940s styles, which saw the press banned from his couture presentations due to their negative reviews – to classicism. A timeless and eternal appeal.
Was the same in evidence at Anthony Vaccarello’s Autumn/Winter 2022 show, presented as usual opposite the glittering edifice of the Tour Eiffel? Perhaps. It was certainly a show of classic chic, a show of perfect style, a show that, when examined, demonstrates a profound evolution of the designer’s aesthetic, a gradual shift in sensibility now reaching its zenith. But it was sensational, and innovative. It was also drop-dead chic, and simple – as simple as a model striding in a black caban coat, collar upturned, over a slithery ivory silk charmeuse evening dress, with sheer black stockings, scrappy sandals, sunglasses at night. It says a great deal about fashion today – and Vaccarello, too – that such simple gestures could have such impact. They cut through the noise, like a knife through butter.
As the models walked, through an intimate, carpeted salon, the walls slid noiselessly into the ground. It was quietly spectacular – perhaps the natural conclusion to Saint Laurent seasons past, with their swinging klieg lights and models walking on water. Here, instead, a chill evening breeze ruffled chiffon and silk skirts below tailored coats as women strode, forcefully, confidently.
Let’s talk about the clothes, shall we? Shoulders were emphatic – because the Saint Laurent shoulder was a thing, perfected by its namesake and some of the best tailors in fashion’s history, formed in the mid-70s, inspiring the entire silhouette of the 80s. Here it was perfectly pitched, neither too hefty nor too high, on coats and jackets shrugged senselessly over those sinuous, sinuous silk dresses, tumbling down the legs. Hands were thrust deep into pockets. The furs were faux, masterpieces of illusion, created by Saint Laurent craftspeople who formerly worked with real skins. Colours were subdued – ivory, black, nudes of every shade, a single slash of poison green, one oversized silk corsage in that No.19 lipstick purple.
There were gestures to Nancy Cunard, the cruise liner heiress. She used to wear bangles stacked up her arms, and sinuous dresses delineating an asparagus-thin body, so they were there too. There were a few gestures to Art Deco – Saint Laurent and his partner, Pierre Bergé, adopted the work of Jean-Michel Frank, and the pale carpet and natural hues of the clothes reminded me of his flawless interiors, his straw marquetry and shagreen upholstery, his parchment-lined salon for the Vicomtesse Marie-Laure de Noailles. But honestly, the inspirations here felt entirely modern, contemporary, real. How should women look today? What should they wear? This is definitely the answer. I’m not sure if it reflects reality, if it draws inspiration from the street, like Saint Laurent did in 1961 when he glanced out at the Boulevard Saint-Germain and created the first high fashion leather jacket for his Dior Beat collection. But perhaps it did something more interesting – showing how the street could look, what reality could be, what the world may be.
Currently, six museums in Paris are staging an entirely unprecedented simultaneous exhibition, juxtaposing Yves Saint Laurent couture pieces alongside the artworks that inspired them. It is a measure of his standing in French culture that these institutions banded together to pay tribute to his genius. It's the kind of homage that could easily overwhelm a designer, twist their arm into paying their own homages. Vaccarello, however, went another way. It wasn’t a pastiche of the looks of Yves Saint Laurent, but a heartfelt ode to the couturier’s spirit, his feeling, and the soul that made his clothes so exceptional. They make Vaccarello’s exceptional, too.