Of all the ways to mix up the tried-and-true show format, an unannounced haute couture collection is certainly an interesting tactic. Especially in the context of the industry's current conversation about shifting toward a consumer-facing calendar. Made-to-measure design is pretty much the opposite of the speedy "see now, buy now" switch that took over runways (and how we talked about shows), recently. Hedi Slimane didn't need much to get people talking about part two of his fall '16 collection in Paris. (The first half premiered at the Palladium in Los Angeles on February 10.) But the resulting discourse went in a few different directions. Firstly, Slimane made it clear Saint Laurent was going back to its roots with a surprise couture presentation, titled "La Collection de Paris." There was no soundtrack to accompany the show. Instead, each of the 42 looks was announced and assigned a number, as was customary at the YSL couture shows from 1977 to 2002. (Bénédicte de Ginestous reprised the role of announcer, which she held for the fashion house's 25 years of showing couture.) In a more modern twist, those not lucky enough to score an engraved seat for today's show could follow along on Twitter: The brand's official account was offering live commentary (in all caps), sharing images of the numbered looks as well as additional details on the collection as the presentation unfolded in Paris. While some (like WSJ's Christina Binkley) had correctly predicted that there would be couture, not the usual RTW fare, at this season's showing, it seemed like a surprise to most.
Last summer, Saint Laurent announced it would reopen its couture business — which had been dormant since 2002. Instead of showing biannually as part of the haute couture calendar, though, the brand said it would accept orders on a case-by-case basis. Slimane set up shop at (and restored) Saint Laurent's new home and couture atelier — l'Hôtel de Sénecterre, a 17th-century mansion on Paris' Left Bank where, today, the designer properly presented this range for the first time. As far as the clothes go, there was a heavy '80s influence felt in the sequinned minidresses, ruffled one-shoulder silhouettes, and padded shoulders. A heart-shaped fur coat was, predictably, the darling of Instagram.The accessories at tonight's show were simple (outside of a few dramatically oversized belts): The models carried a new Slimane handbag style, called "Love," and strutted across various salons in Paris pumps. (As for critics' reactions, the show definitely didn't sit well with some, like WWD's Bridget Foley, who called the whole production "a parody".)
Anticipation started building long before guests entered the venue, given that the designer's name has been frequently mentioned lately in the (never-ending) will-they-won't-they-leave creative-director rumour mill. So, instead of announcing a runway switcheroo or exclusive shoppable pieces available immediately after the show, as has happened in a couple of shows throughout the past month, Slimane saved the surprise for the day of. (According to The New York Times' Vanessa Friedman, Slimane requested phones be turned off for the silent show — although that certainly didn't stop invitees from heavily Instagramming the event, because how could you not.) Back in January, Saint Laurent said Slimane was staying put as creative director, despite rumours. But that hasn't necessarily quelled the speculation. For better or for worse, this show will surely only add more fuel to the fire: It could be read as either a grand finale subtly announcing an exit, or a show of commitment to the brand and its legacy. (He did spend years rebuilding l'Hôtel de Sénecterre, after all.) Where does the fate of the house lie? We'll just have to wait and see.