It's OK for intellectual feminists to like fashion

Blog title from Hadley Freeman's book The Meaning of Sunglasses : "Prada styles itself as the label it's OK for intellectual feminists to like".

The author is a bilingual fashion editor, writer and translator with a serious blog, cinema and magazine habit.

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Email: fashionmemex(at)gmail.com

This year, on 29 January 2012, the Yves Saint Laurent brand will celebrate its 50th birthday. Fifty years of dressing women (and men), of launching best-seller licensing deals, of building up Yves Saint Laurent’s legend, Pierre Bergé’s myth, of being scandalous under Tom Ford and quiet under Stefano Pilati.

I fell in love with Yves Saint Laurent after a Paris ELLE cover featuring the designer with Laetitia Casta in that bikini flower wedding dress. Although I haven’t been able to find it anywhere on the world wide web, to the extent I’ve started to think this cover was little more than a composite of my imagination, I’d date it back to his 2002 retrospective.

Despite not owing anything Yves Saint Laurent until last year, the man and the brand have been a recurrent presence in my life and have formed my fashion taste.

I remember queuing at the Petit Palais to see the Yves Saint Laurent retrospective, the amazement of the Visconti room, the surprise of discovering he’d written a cartoon book, the Catherine Deneuve wardrobe and his voice when answering Proust’s questionnaire

I remember my sister’s shock when, sitting on les berges de la Seine, after seeing the Petit Palais retrospective, I told her Yves Saint Laurent had been a drug addict, then leafing through Laurence Benaïm's biography to read the appropriate extracts

I remember being impressed by the minimalism, cut and modernity of my first real-life Mondrian dress at the Grace Kelly V&A exhibition

I remember seeing the pictures of Saint Laurent being made Grand Officier de la Légion d’Honneur in 2007 and realising there and then he would definitely never design again

I remember being moved to tears when I first heard Laetitia Casta and Catherine Deneuve sing Barbara’s Ma plus belle histoire d’amour at the end of his 2002 haute-couture retrospective. (No, Laetitia can’t sing)

I remember my eighty-year-old neighbour turning up to my birthday in a Pucci dress and Yves Saint Laurent shawl and considering her the height of elegance

I remember loving Anny Duperey’s wardrobe in Stavisky, a white, luxury symphony, and discovering, years later, that Yves Saint Laurent had designed it

I remember hearing about Yves Saint Laurent’s death, on the radio, the morning of my Indian history exam, when I should have been focusing on Macaulay’s reforms and how the British created a caste system

I remember regretting not to be in Paris to queue for the exhibition before the Christie’s auction

I remember being disappointed Pierre Bergé has decided to disperse the collection rather than keeping rue Babylone as a museum and not understanding his decision. I’ve since read in Béatrice Peyrani’s biography that he thought a private museum wouldn’t be sustainable

I remember considering the 1998 advert for the Paris women’s fragrance, with a woman kissing her lover, suspended to a helicopter, at the top of the Eiffel Tower, as the height of romanticism

I remember the 1998 World Cup retrospective, just before the  France-Brazil match kicked off. Pure Pierre Bergé marketing genius

I remember little of the Tom Ford years

I remember Stefano Pilati, shy and self-effacing, trying to convince Anna Wintour dark green is a colour in The September Issue

I remember an article on Pilati’s mastership of polka dots in one of the first Paris Vogue I’ve ever read

I remember Anna Dello Russo in Pilati’s strawberry print white dress, with a cherry hat

I remember my first Yves Saint Laurent manifesto, set aside by a passenger on the number 9 bus at the Knightsbridge stop

I remember Kate Moss looking through the Pierre-Bergé Yves Saint Laurent Fondation window, in an advert which has been on the walls of every single room I’ve moved to

I remember thinking the same Kate Moss wasn’t the best person to embody the Parisienne perfume because she was more cool Britannia than Parisian chic. Would Yves have approved?

I remember buying my first vintage Yves Saint Laurent piece, a purple skirt I date to the Van Gogh collection, in the 1980s. I remember nearly buying a red cape with a black fur collar for fashion’s sakes since it suited neither my frame, nor my lifestyle

I remember buying my second Yves Saint Laurent piece, a Muse in a beautiful camel colour in the softest grainy leather

I remember wanting the Arty ring before deciding against it because everyone was buying it. In 2011, Net-a-Porter alone sold 800 blue Arty rings.

I remember opening my wardrobe to make and inventory of all the clothes inspired by the Yves Saint Laurent collections I owe. Smoking, check, safari jacket, check, trench coat, check…

Posted at 7:54pm and tagged with: first person, pierre bergé, ysl, yves saint laurent, tom ford, Stefano Pilati, the september issue,.

The Gucci woman – you know what she’s after. The Saint Laurent woman – she’s going to torture you a little bit. You might have sex, but she will drip a little hot wax on you first

I’ve just finished reading Frédéric Beigbeder’s 2000 novel, 99 francs, since retitled 14.99€, £9.99 in Adriana Hunter’s English translation. The opening sentence of the second chapter reads in French

Je me prénomme Octave et m’habille chez APC. Je suis publicitaire…

In English, this became

My name is Octave and I’m dressed from head to foot in Tom Ford. I’m an advertising executive …

Somehow, when in London, Octave wears very different suits. Beigbeder wrote his novel between 1997 and 2000, when A.P.C was still an intimate ten-year-old Parisian brand with a minimalist urban vibe. At that time, Tom Ford was PPR’s prodigal son, his glamourous, overtly sexual aesthetics miles away from that of Jean Touitou.

Later in the novel, Beigbeder describes Octave’s wardrobe as a mixture of Hermès, Louis Vuitton, Dolce e Gabbana, Richard James, Helmut Lang, Huseyn Chalayan, Lucien Pellat-Finet, Prada, Muji, with accessories by Berluti, Gucci, Cutler and Gross, Nike and Adidas and “a closet containing ten season worth of A.P.C in full” (Folio p.117, translation my own). All this luxury, all this name dropping and not a single mention of Tom Ford, aside from the Gucci moccasin.

Beigbeder dressing Octave in A.P.C is a comment on his personality and on his view on his work environment. Octave is an ad man who sees his world with the utmost contempt and cynicism. His fashion choices reflect this dismay: in 2000, A.P.C was an insiders’ brand with no mass budget for advertising, no desire for provocation. The brand ethos reflects Octave’s conceit for the mass market, all the clueless, uncultured beings buying into his lies spread across billboards and TV spots. Octave would despise the Tom Ford customer for trying to achieve a different personality by buying a suit, just like his taglines promised.

Hunter dressing Octave in Tom Ford was more than a simple localisation of the brand to adapt the novel to the English-speaking public: it’s a radical turn on his personality and views of the world which changes the way the reader perceives the narrator and as such is a betrayal of the original prose.

Posted at 8:45am and tagged with: brand,, translation, tom ford, A.P.C, book review,.

Dear Tom,

Was naming one of your new nail lacquer shades Bitter Bitch really appropriate? You’ve been labeled a misogynist time and time again, at Yves Saint Laurent, at Gucci and for your own label. Your adverts have featured finger blow jobs, a model displaying a male fragrance on her Brazilian-waxed pubis, women feeling up men and the infamous G-shaped pubic wax. What’s a little name calling compared with the introduction of porn in luxury advertising? How do you even come up with a name like this? Is this a comment on the colour of one’s soul when one “is bitter about her (his) life and the things that have happened to him (her) and decides to take it out on the world”? A wink to Maria Sveland? I love the colour but the name will make me think twice about buying it.

Posted at 6:26pm and tagged with: beauty, Tom Ford, open letter, feminism,.