A standing ovation for Stefano Pilati at the close of his final show for Yves Saint Laurent.

What must have been going through Stefano Pilati’s mind moments after he received a standing ovation for his final collection for Yves Saint Laurent?

‘Like always,’ he told me when I asked him backstage, ‘It will never stop, my mind, it’s the same. Of course, I feel great. I’m happy, very happy. It was the perfect moment for me to stop, absolutely. Everything was planned for a long while now,’ he said, a direct reference to the rumour mill that has been in overdrive for the last six months.

Moments before, Katy Perry, in quite possibly the chicest outfit she’s ever worn, (YSL of course), her hair blue and scraped back into a topknot, had congratulated the designer. ‘I was in a trance,’ she told Pilati, ‘It felt very original, very YSL. I loved the chainmail. It was very Joan of Ark and Herb Ritts!’

It was certainly Pilati’s strongest collection for some time. As fierce as it was elegant, as tough as it was chic; it was almost ominous in its dark, hard strength. This was a designer throwing down his gauntlet – defiantly so – as if staring the YSL bosses square in the face and saying: ‘WHY?’ And ‘LOOK WHAT I CAN DO!’

The models, their mouths painted a glassy blackish-red, hair severely knotted in slick-backed chignons, stormed out in high mirrored heels, and a clothing parade in all black. The silhouette was stern with solid shoulders, clasped waists, almost brutally narrow at first. Colour came in the form of hot pink, purple or green leather cinched-waist tops. The only print, a white or purple orchid that curled up the legs of a black trouser suit, or coiled around a pencil skirt. Then came the chainmail – as light dresses, as a mesh over a white skirt or as straps on backless tops. There was one incredible white gown, with a high neck and long sleeves, dropped into the inky darkness.

It was forcefully strong and pointedly clear that Stefano Pilati intended to go out with a bang.

Pilati, who assumed the position of creative director in 2004 following Tom Ford’s departure, began his tenure with mighty promise. There were memorable collections in those early years when he riffed on the YSL archives, on everything from the romantic flamenco collection held in the Grand Palais to the ultra modernist collection he showed in the Pompidou Centre. He also knocked out some of the most desirable shoe and bag collections that helped fuel sales and put the YSL business back in the black.

But the last few years of his tenure were dogged by replacement rumours, even as the business demonstrated continual growth and profitability. Full-year sales at YSL leapt 31.4 per cent last year while operating income grew more than fourfold, Women’s Wear Daily reported two weeks ago. Despite all this, his contract wasn’t renewed.

If rumour is to be believed, it is Hedi Slimane who is poised to take over the design helm at YSL. Slimane, who has never before designed a womenswear collection, exited as the designer of Dior Homme in 2007 and has since devoted himself to photography.

But this moment belongs to Pilati. When asked what he might do next, he said, ‘Vacation. I really need to put together my thoughts, thoughts I’ve had for a while.’

Until the next time, then, Stefano.

 
 
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