Yves Y Saint Laurent’s new man.
Nature-inspired designers’ new leaf.
It was fashion’s worst-kept secret. Long before Hedi Slimane exited Yves Saint Laurent at the beginning of the month, Anthony Vaccarello was being touted as his successor. “Vaccawho?” you may ask. Even in fashion circles he’s a relative unknown: his biggest gig so far has been designing the Versus range for Versace. But Saint Laurent’s owner, Kering kingpin Francois-Henri Pinault, has a reputation for making daring appointments. Nobody had heard of Alessandro Michele until he took over at Gucci in January last year and instantly revived its fortunes. Similarly, Vetements designer Demna Gvasalia has made Balenciaga the label to watch this autumn. Like his two Kering group colleagues, Vaccarello, 33, who got the job on April 4, has been taken from obscurity and thrust into the fashion big league.
Born in Brussels to Italian parents — his father was a waiter and his mother worked in an office — Vaccarello went to law school but ditched it after a year to pursue his creative dream, studying sculpture at La Cambre school in Brussels. Now he’s taking over one of the fastest growing names in luxury fashion, Saint Laurent. The label recorded a 26 per cent leap in sales last year; in the previous four years they grew from $526 million to $1.45 billion.
Vaccarello’s first collection will be unveiled in October, so what can we expect? Aesthetically, he has made his name with sinuous clothes with an urban edge, expertly sliced to reveal and conceal the flesh. “When I do a collection, I don’t think about making sexual stuff, it’s all about making real clothes. But I am always trying to push the boundaries and find my own vocabulary. It’s about finding a good line, playing with good taste and cutting in a way I find chic.” Temperamentally, it’s hard to imagine him being as divisive as Slimane, who was savaged by critics for making retro clothes that seemed too straightforward to be considered great design but that proved catnip for customers.
I met Vaccarello in Paris recently. Slender, in a black leather jacket and jeans, he has dark, intense eyes matched by masses of quiet confidence. Since launching his own label in 2009, he has been intent on redefining sexy dressing for a new generation and overhauling the cliches. “We are in a period where women have to be powerful,” he says. In his world, short-skirted leggy looks give you freedom of movement, leather gives a sense of power, and black allows the woman to be seen. Over tea at the Hotel Costes, we talked about his design philosophy. Don’t call it sexy “It feels like an insult in a way because people have a bad idea of sexy,” he says. His collections may be strong on short skirts, spliced gowns and black leather but, “for me, it’s more about freedom than sex, and a girl, when she’s free, she is sexy. But when she tries too much, it’s a disaster.” Try-hard girls, be warned: low-key hair and make-up, flat shoes and an undone attitude are Vaccarello’s tips for pulling off short and tight in a modern way. He begins with men's wear “I really like tailoring, and I always start with men’s clothes on women. People don’t see it because when I finish, it’s short.” His cutting skills will be well received by “le smoking”-obsessed Saint Laurent customers. His look hardly can be described as androgynous, though. For autumn, he mixed mannish jackets with corsetry, and his big tip for anyone wanting to update their LBD is to wear a slouchy masculine blazer over the top. Black is always back His collections have always embraced black, often accented by artfully placed slits to reveal bare skin. “Why do something in yellow if it’s better in black?” For him, it’s the most flattering colour anyone could wear. “You see the shape, you see the face, you see the skin, the hands. It’s like a sketch.” Embrace the power of leather It’s one of his favourite materials, having honed his The freedom of the short His short skirts — some styled to look like corsets, with lacing over the hips, are designed to be liberating. “They’re sporty and urban. It’s about freedom. You are not blocked with a skirt. You are free. You have nothing in the way, you just have to walk.”
And for those not comfortable with getting their pins out, he has come up with a new way to wear his leggy silhouette. “It’s interesting to have a beautiful dress but with jeans,” he says. “It doesn’t look overdressed. I think that is so cool.”
He always been the one to watch
(For those who know where to look …) On graduating in 2006, Vaccarello won the prestigious Hyeres fashion prize with a collection inspired by La Cicciolina, the Italian porn star and politician. Karl Lagerfeld was so impressed by his use of leather, he immediately hired him for Fendi. He launched his own label in 2009 with a tiny capsule collection, which quickly gathered a cool-girl following. Early adopters included Lou Doillon and the hot-bodied supermodel Anja Rubik. (Vaccarello says it will now close, so he can focus on Yves Saint Laurent.) Donatella Versace tapped him to design her Versus collection in 2014, describing his designs as “sexy, dynamic, audacious”. He says: “She rebuilt Versace — it’s her label now. For me, there are two living legends, Donatella and Karl Lagerfeld. To work with both was amazing.”
A look from the Anthony Vaccarello Spring 2016 collection skills during the two years he spent at Fendi, where the craftspeople can do almost anything with it. He believes it makes women look powerful. “It gives girls an attitude that is superstrong. The touch of leather is just so sensual, it’s sensational on the skin.”
Anthony Vaccarello with his favourite model, Anja Rubik, at the 2013 Met Gala, above; looks from his Autumn 16/17 collection, above centre and right