For the first time since he took the helm of Saint Laurent in 2016, Anthony Vaccarello unveiled a dedicated men’s collection in the centre of Paris for the Autumn/Winter 2023 season. It isn’t that he hasn’t been showing menswear, of course – Vaccarello’s men’s shows have trotted the globe, taking place against the exceptional backdrops of California beach-fronts, Venetian lagoons and the Sahara desert. But this time, he brought it back to Saint Laurent’s home in a measure of his confidence in the label’s proposition. “For me, when I see the collection, I think it’s my second collection,” Vaccarello said, lassoing this show to the collection he debuted in the desert outside Morocco last July. “Maybe it was too separate from the women. More and more I want them to be one person. No distinction.”
Of course, there’s precedent for that, within Saint Laurent’s own storied legacy. Yves Saint Laurent famously transposed classic items of menswear to a women’s wardrobe, so succinctly he gained a repute for being their originator. And, arguably, in a fashion sense he was: while Marlene Dietrich may have sported tuxedos in the 1930s, it was Saint Laurent who shifted them to womenswear three decades later, when women could still be refused entry to restaurants if they were wearing them. Today, Vaccarello bounced those pieces from men, to women, and back again, leaving traces of both genders embedded in their forms. This menswear collection proposed plenty of sharp suiting, but also low-tugged slinky knit tunics, draped chiffons and velvets complete with calèche hoods, throwbacks to Vaccarello’s September womenswear show but also, he said, to the house’s Autumn/Winter 1998 haute couture collection. “For me, my favourite couture,“ he stated. There were also a few throwbacks to end-of-the-90s menswear shows; the thick ivory carpets and curving leather banquettes of the décor echoing Tom Ford’s old, luxe-laden shows for both Gucci and YSL back in the day. Vaccarello is an avowed Ford fan, so call it a dual homage.
The clothes themselves, however, felt resolutely of this moment. As Vaccarello correctly intuited, they’re strong, assertive, emphatic and deserve their own space. And, in a sense, this does feel like his second Saint Laurent menswear collection, building on his spring offering, rounding it all out into a fully-formed proposition of menswear. It was also, undoubtedly, hardcore fashion – uncompromising and, truth be told, not for everyone. The attenuation of Vaccarello’s tailoring demanded height, with coats tramlining to the ankles even on his six-foot-something male models. And the silhouette is willowy and lithe – I kept thinking of Rudolf Nureyev, a customer for Yves Saint Laurent’s own flamboyant menswear in the 1970s. Exaggeration was key – in the wide shoulders, those lengths, the outré scale of a bow knotted around a haughtily raised chin. Yet the polish and accomplishment was a message with universal resonance, not only reflective of a shift in the psyche of modern dressing but, perhaps, a catalyst for us all to dress up more. In terms of power dressing, Vaccarello’s Saint Laurent woman may have finally found her match.