When considering the impact of a fashion designer, it is the silhouette that acts as the lightning speed litmus test of immediate recognition. Yves Saint Laurent—perhaps the most postmodern of sartorial engineers—evokes the memory of several silhouettes, depending on one’s generation; from the pop art shift dresses and elegant suede safari gear to romantic ambergris perfumed Russian peasant skirts and sharply tailored, magnetically dark Le Smoking tuxedos. Saint Laurent’s recently appointed creative director, Anthony Vaccarello, can lay claim to his very own contribution to the shape of fashion, despite his relative infancy as a household name.
Vaccarello’s silhouette is centred on desire itself in its most visceral, liquid form—the silky dresses with incendiary splits that travel imprudently northwards, far beyond the hip bone and into the sphere of brazen exhibitionism—the kind that would once have resulted in rampant persecution. His vision is one of unapologetic female ownership, confidence and thoroughbred beauty—a celebration of the leggy modelesque form that has come to epitomise today’s physical ideal. His hallmark design may seem like a precarious draping of fabric that could reveal far too much at the slightest whisper of a breeze, but it is actually a carefully orchestrated piece of sartorial architecture. The skirt is cut on the bias as though it’s one leg of a trouser, lending the illusion of nakedness whilst maintaining maximum coverage. Critics may lament it for its widespread appropriation of the male gaze, but make no mistake: it is she who calls the shots.
Having graduated from Le Cambre, the Belgian design school often overshadowed by Antwerp’s Royal Academy, the 36-year-old Brussels born designer carved out a path that is distinctive from his country’s more conceptual designers, of which there are far more than six. “When I’m working, I’m making clothes around the body. I’m more about the draping and finding the right line,” he explained to Interview magazine. “Maybe because I’m half-Italian and half-Belgian, I strive for both a kind of sensuality and a control and construction.” He adds that the glossy sheen of sexiness is the last stage of the process. “It’s sexy because the girl is wearing the dress. It’s not my first goal when I’m making the collection.”
When Vaccarello’s all leather graduate collection—inspired by the infamous porn star La Cicciolina—won the prestigious prize at the Hyères Festival in 2006, he was immediately snapped up by Fendi, where he spent two years designing fur at the brand’s headquarters in Rome. Itching to get out and cater to his own customers, he launched a capsule collection of five jackets and five swimsuits in Paris in 2009, catching the eye of Maria Luisa Frisa, who put his debut in the windows of her influential eponymous Paris boutique. Vaccarello slowly built his brand, continuing to create small capsule collections. In 2011, Vaccarello won another prestigious award, the ANDAM fashion award, which came with €200,000 in prize money. The following year became his annus mirabilis. A herd of racehorse like models, including Anja Rubik and Karlie Kloss, actually called him up and asked to walk in his Spring 2012 show, establishing what would become his core cabine of house mannequins, lending their limbs to his shows. Even heavyweights such as Gwyneth Paltrow and Gisele Bündchen were eager to be seen in the young designer’s creations; on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar and at the Met Ball respectively. What all of these women adore, is the skill with which Vaccarello can cut so closely to the body, following its line, and being spectacularly unafraid to reveal whole swathes of bronzed flesh.
Unbeknownst to Vaccarello, the sequence of successes were all leading up to one seminal moment, the one at which Donatella Versace, the world’s most famous proprietor of hedonistic glamour, came knocking at his door. Vaccarello ended up being the one knocking on the door to Versace’s suite at the Bristol Hotel in Paris, after being chauffeured over to meet with her. It was a match made in heaven, Vaccarello telling Vogue that “she was lying on the sofa like a goddess”. Whilst sharing a lunch of risotto and vanilla tart in Gianni’s apartment at Via Gesù in Milan, Vaccarello unveiled his celebration of distinct Donatellaisms; short, high, tight, black and markedly rock ’n’ roll.
The marriage of these two minds is hardly surprising considering that, like the two previous designers Donatella roped in to design her Versus line (Christopher Kane and Jonathan Anderson), Vaccarello grew up during the 1990s heyday of the Versace supermodel, who was spotlighted on bass-heavy runways and featured statuesque in ad campaigns shot by Richard Avedon. “I collected all the old Versace images when Gianni was still alive. I surrounded myself with strong images that I liked. My first love was really photography,” he said earlier this year. Gianni’s naughty gleam of leather and glint of chainmail is paramount to Vaccerello’s love of the hard-edged, tough-luxe look, which secured his gig at Versus, where he introduced a contemporary edge to the brand’s heavily established vernacular.
The Belgian designer’s ability to grapple with the weight of a global juggernaut, caught the attention of Kering, appointing him as creative director of the maison Saint Laurent. When Hedi Slimane reinvented Yves Saint Laurent, performing the most radical rebranding since Tom Ford’s dramatic reinvention of Gucci, he laid foundations that would be hard for even the most established designers to build upon. Yet Vaccarello evokes a new beginning for both himself and the iconic maison, representing an opportunity to explore a softer, more romantic and delicate vision of female desire to the one he has already articulated. Vaccarello produced a surprisingly clean (in both aesthetic and tone) first advertising campaign, employing photographer Collier Schorr and featuring nude hitherto unknown models in minimal make up draped across stark white backgrounds. “I always want it to be modern, and to make things that never suggest any particular reference point,” he told Antidote earlier this year. This ethos is imbued in his first women’s Spring/Summer 2017 collection and will no doubt influence his menswear debut in early 2017.