In reinventing the Saint Laurent brand for a new century, Stefano Pilati has a task on his hands. Yves Saint Laurent's legacy is not confined to a few dozen frocks mouldering in an archive: he changed the way the twentieth century dressed. Pilati cannot, and does not, bear that lineage lightly - indeed, he is always glancing over his shoulder at it. For Autumn/Winter 2010, he chose to stage his Yves Saint Laurent show in the Grand Palais - a major retrospective of Yves Saint Laurent's work is due to open in the building opposite later this week. Was this a show of deference or defiance to the Saint Laurent of old?
Judging from the collection Pilati showed, many will automatically assume the latter: complaining that, with a gloved, heeled and furred vision of a profoundly conservative femininity, these clothes were bourgeois and that Saint Laurent - the perfect rebel - would have detested them. But despite his protestations, both Saint Laurent himself, and his style, were extremely bourgeois. Indeed, that was the root of his power: when Saint Laurent sought to ÃƒÂ©pater le bourgeois, it was that much more shocking because it came from one of their own, a nice middle-class Algerian boy who stitched suits at Christian Dior rather than un blouson noir. Stefano Pilati continues that tradition - it remains much more effective to ÃƒÂ©pater with bourgeois staples rather than fire and brimstone. His ladies were just that - ladies - with the accoutrements of staid, Right Bank elegance, dresses clasped high against the throat, trembling with subtle decoration. Pilati's collection, however, twisted the Saint Laurent house standards - the little black suit, the little white blouse, those chunky-shouldered eighties dresses in jarring satin - inserting panels of plastic, slicing hems raw, adding touches of imperfection to the Saint Laurent vision of idealised, idolised womanhood. Arms emerged through slits in those perfect Saint Laurent sleeves, chunks were sliced out of those exquisite embroidered hems, those furs and chic suits were inset with sleazy cut-outs of transparent PVC, and he even did his own blouson noir.
There's no escaping that the Petit Palais exhibition deifies YSL - so is Yves Saint Laurent a religion? Certainly, there is a religious fervour to some of its followers, both of the father of of the house, the late great Saint Yves himself, and his disciple Stefano Pilati. That was possibly where part of the inspiration for this collection came from - wimples and cassocks, gilt chains bearing talismans of iconic YSL silhouettes rendered in gold. Pilati seemed in part to be outfitting cloistered nuns of the order of Saint Laurent, in endless parades of classic black. But was he seeking to debunk the legend? Was Pilati knocking Yves off his pedestal? For all his undoubted respect for the founder, paying reverence whilst revising is a difficult tack to take, and there always seems to be a tussle between the urge to modernise and mythologise YSL in Pilati's clothes. As with his Spring/Summer outing, ultimately his latest collection raised more questions than it answered. As all truly ground-breaking fashion should.