GANG OF NEW YORK
GANG OF NEW YORK
After two years at the head of the legendary House, Anthony Vaccarello presents Saint Laurent man for the first time. A meeting over coffee.
Patience is a virtue, and it took no small amount before Anthony Vaccarello’s Saint Laurent men’s silhouette finally stepped into the light. Two years into his tenure at the head of the ne plus ultra of Parisian fashion and luxury, the Italo–Belgian chose New York and the late– evening banks of the Hudson River to set loose a gang of sassy boys in black leather safari jackets, glittering embroidered bomber jackets, snakeskin blazers, see– through shirts open to the wind and skin–tight jeans dripping with caviar sequins. It was a carefully dosed cocktail that riffed many of Yves Saint Laurent’s own references, from Marrakesh to gender–bending, from black to brazenness, to bad–boy vibe. A show away from home turf but very much a tribute. Forty years earlier, Yves Saint Laurent had chosen the same spot for the Oriental–themed launch of Opium — a whiff of scandal beneath tumbling orchids and lilies. Truman Capote, Cher, Calvin Klein, Diana Vreeland and Halston partied like it was 1978. Anthony Vaccarello wasn’t yet born. Which could be why the designer, a graduate of Brussels’ prestigious La Cambre art school, respects, and has an instinct for, the legend but isn’t crushed by its weight. His dazzling dresses and leather microshorts for mile– long legs, his sheer blouses, inflated shoulders covered in studs and navel–grazing necklines have pushed Saint Laurent’s turnover beyond the billion–euro mark ( up 23 % in 2017 ). Affirmation of its menswear should send it into the stratosphere. Anthony Vaccarello is unfazed. Sitting on the terrace at Café de Flore in Saint–Germain–des–Prés, sipping a cup of black coffee, he has the innocent freshness of a Christophe Honoré leading man — Love Songs, maybe. Wiry and discreet in dark jeans and shirt, messy hair, he comes across as attentive and reserved, feet on the ground and head in the stars. And, a rare quality, gentle in the noble sense of the word. The epitome of chic.
You’ve been Saint Laurent creative director for almost three years now. Why wait so long before your first standalone men’s show?
I’d never designed a men’s collection before Saint Laurent. It was just a question of feeling confident enough to take the plunge.
VOGUE HOMMES Why present the collection in New York? ANTHONY VACCARELLO
We had the Eiffel Tower as a backdrop for the women’s show, and I could see it would be hard to come up with anything as spectacular in Paris. I mean, it doesn’t really get any better! New York seemed the obvious choice. I love New York. The city grew so fast and it always feels as though anything can happen there. For me, New York is about the freedom to be who you want to be, the Factory, a melting pot of cultures. It has a charisma no other city has. Like everyone else, I first saw New York in films and I still remember the weird sensation of arriving there for the first time, at maybe seventeen or eighteen, and everything being so familiar yet completely unknown. Also, this isn’t the brightest period in American history, so having the show in New York was a way of honouring the city. —›
“I like the idea of being yourself, appearing the way you want to, without sexual motives and without being judged.”
Yves Saint Laurent imagined a very distinctive silhouette, which included borrowing pieces from a man’s wardrobe as a mirror of women’s liberation. In your show, it was the opposite, with a lot of the outer signs of femininity very much in evidence on the models: sheer fabrics, leopard print, glitzy embroidery, bare skin and a finale that was all glitter and sequins. So boys just wanna have fun, too?
I’m glad it was obvious. I want to break men out of the mould, unshackle them from the virile, athletic clichés. Let them express their sensibility. It’s not about presenting a guy who is feminine or blatantly sexy — a word I dislike — but a man in touch with his feelings, who’s sure of himself. I like the idea of being yourself, of appearing the way you want to appear without any sexual motives and without being judged. It’s a right I defend all the more strongly now that everything has become so clinical and uniform.
Some designers believe men and women will one day share the same wardrobe. What are your thoughts on that?
It’s flavour of the month. I can’t see it happening and nor would I want to. There’s a tendency right now to want to erase differences and make everyone look the same. How depressing! I’m a great believer in and supporter of more gender fluidity but I don’t think men will be wearing dresses one day. It’s good to mark out territories. That’s why I was happy to do the men’s show. Sharp, uncompromising. It’s a shoulder, a structure that implies a certain posture, a demeanour, an attitude, possibly at the expense of comfort, in which case tough … It’s the antithesis of the cool, slouchy, sportswear silhouette that’s everywhere now, to the point of overkill. And it’s black, of course.
VOGUE HOMMES Describe the Saint Laurent silhouette. ANTHONY VACCARELLO VOGUE HOMMES
Is Saint Laurent in the back of your mind when working on a collection?
Always, at first. I picture him in a djellaba, in a belted saharienne jacket and corduroys, even a leather jacket. Then the image fades. The collection takes shape, it goes onto the models and I start to see it differently …
What frame of mind are you in when you design a men’s collection? Do you have a concept, a pure vision of what it will be, or is it more a transposition of what you would wear?
A bit of both. There’s a certain amount of myself when I was young and what I wore then. When I was twenty, I was fascinated by Xavier Delcour to the point of wanting to do this job. He was this dark angel, a boy in black with smoky eyes, a see–through shirt, sequins, tees and jackets with the sleeves ripped off. The 80s–inspired electro wave of 2000. The personalities I grew up with also have a big influence: Serge Gainsbourg, Jarvis Cocker or Suede lead vocalist Brett Anderson. —›
VOGUE HOMMES Which men inspire you the most? ANTHONY VACCARELLO
Serge Gainsbourg, always, in a Saint Laurent double– breasted pinstripe jacket over a faded denim shirt. People in music, film, the Nouvelle Vague. Robert Mapplethorpe, for his provocative, iconoclastic and unconventional spirit, which has now become accepted. Mostly men from an earlier era. It’s hard to come up with someone contemporary. There is something about Timothée Chalamet that intrigues me. The beauty of rather objectionable, probably slightly arrogant youth. He looks so sure of himself, all that attitude. I like that “little shit” side!
VOGUE HOMMES The ultimate Saint Laurent piece? ANTHONY VACCARELLO
A pair of jeans. He often said he wished he’d invented them. Jeans are to Saint Laurent today what the saharienne jacket was in the 1970s.
This issue of Vogue Hommes is devoted to chic. What does chic mean to you?
If you asked someone younger, I don’t think they’d know what it meant. Cool has got the better of chic. Chic is timeless, beyond fashion, with a little something of the past. It’s an attitude. It’s the art of matching things that don’t necessarily go together. In an ultrapersonal way. It’s making the incoherent coherent. It’s being your own person.
What’s the antithesis of chic? The clothing or accessory you’d eliminate from a man’s wardrobe? ANTHONY VACCARELLO Massive sneakers. Without a moment’s hesitation.
“You don’t say no to Saint Laurent Especially as when they handed me the keys, they just said ‘over to you’.”
VOGUE HOMMES And the staples? ANTHONY VACCARELLO
A pinstripe wool jacket, exactly the kind Gainsbourg used to wear, a denim shirt, black jeans and a leather jacket. Seventies cut, tobacco brown.
VOGUE HOMMES What do you associate with Yves Saint Laurent? ANTHONY VACCARELLO
Spontaneously, I’d say parties. And, bizarrely, alcohol, cocaine and depression, those demons we often associate with Saint Laurent are really all to do with partying. Which proves there is more than one Saint Laurent. Then there’s the gang. Betty, Loulou, Pierre Bergé and Andy Warhol, Mick Jagger … a tight circle you either loved or hated, but which always fascinated. It’s something I try to recreate with the people around me.
Are you a snob? A little. So was he, actually. And hugely popular at the same time. Again, Saint Laurent is a closed circle. I like the idea that Saint Laurent fashion, the Saint Laurent mindset aren’t within everyone’s reach. When I look at all the photos from back then, it makes me wish I could have been part of the gang.
VOGUE HOMMES Did you ever meet him? ANTHONY VACCARELLO
Never. But I did meet those close to him. Pierre Bergé, of course, as well as Betty Catroux and Dominique Deroche, who worked alongside him for almost forty years. It’s vital to stay connected with the Saint Laurent DNA and root it in the present moment. It’s the most emblematic, most modern Parisian house. Saint Laurent invented everything.
The two words most often used to describe you are discreet and determined. Would you agree?
Let’s just say I don’t talk much and I know what I want. I was certain a big Parisian house would come along one day. When Kering got in touch, I thought they were going to offer me Balenciaga. And it was Saint Laurent. You don’t say no to Saint Laurent. Especially as they didn’t tell me what to do when they handed me the keys. It was more like, “over to you”. It should have sent me into a spin but even now I haven’t fully realised it. I go to the studio on Rue de l’Université every day and it still hasn’t sunk in. It protects me, in a way; it takes a lot of the pressure off.
Saint Laurent is a grail. It carries so many expectations and fantasies. You need a bulletproof jacket when you’re the designer at the head of such a legend. What kind of an experience is it?
When I arrived at Saint Laurent, I knew that all my predecessors had come under fire and that some had really taken a slating. There was no getting round it, but forewarned is forearmed. When it does happen, it’s not that bad. Personal attacks don’t get to me. On the other hand, nor does flattery. Everyone thinks they know better than everyone else what Saint Laurent is and what it should be. People associate the house more with the tuxedo, the lavishness of haute couture or the 1980s bourgeoise, and far less with the freedom, the emancipation and the stylistic revolution that it stood for in the 1970s. Again, there is more than one Saint Laurent. Trying to do something different with that isn’t profanity.
Opposite page: Wool coatThis page, top right: Wool shirt and silk shirtCashmere jacket, denim jeans and brass pendantDenim saharienne jacket and silk muslin shirtRight: Leather saharienne jacket, denim jeans and brass chain SAINT LAURENT BY ANTHONY VACCARELLO SPRING– SUMMER 2019