June 14, 2024


Clothes that smile

How Anthony Vaccarello Supercharged Saint Laurent

How Anthony Vaccarello Supercharged Saint Laurent

What Vaccarello does instead is create fashion that resonates and experiences that are genuinely moving. In July, in the middle of the Agafay Desert, a dusty, hour-plus ride outside of Marrakech, he staged his spring 2023 menswear show. Among those in attendance were talented people you wouldn’t quite call “celebs,” like Steve Lacy and Dominic Fike, as well as dozens of other beautiful creatures wearing gauzy pussy-bow blouses; fulsome, flowy trousers; and at least one dark cape that made its wearer look like a Jedi master. As the sun set, a troop of slender models emerged through a spooky mist. The first wore a strong-shouldered tuxedo with no shirt and simple black sandals. Another wore a silky white shirt with a plunging neckline and long black trousers that rippled in the wind. Yet another wore a large faux-fur duster coat, which grazed the tops of glimmering black high-heel boots.

Men’s fashion is going through a full-blown identity crisis—in the shifting terrain of masculinity and gender expression, and the Category 5 hurricane of trends swirling on social media, many designers seem confused as to what their customers want, or who they even are. In Marrakech, Vaccarello responded with a deeply felt urgency and clarity of vision. He presented clothing that spoke clearly of an aspirational life of pleasure and sensuality. Clothing for men who want to feel beautiful. It was a definitive moment in establishing the validity of his men’s line.

The audience clearly picked up what Vaccarello put down. As an otherworldly portal of an Es Devlin sculpture that punctuated the landscape descended back into a dark pool at the center of the runway and the models disappeared into the night, several members of the audience silently wept into their blouses. “For me, it’s very important to cry at the show,” Anthony Vaccarello told me later. “I like when there’s an emotion. It’s super important to tell a story. Then at the end, if you cry, it means that you understood where I want to go, and I like that.”

It was not exactly destined that Vaccarello would emerge as a menswear force. When he arrived at Saint Laurent, he had never designed a shred of clothing for men, and his approach was initially cautious. “When I started doing men’s, it was more about what I was wearing back then. So it was kind of selfish, I have to say. Maybe too real,” he says. One of the designers he was wearing a lot at the time was Hedi Slimane, his predecessor at Saint Laurent. Slimane was a tough act to follow, especially for someone who was new to menswear. “I felt pressure starting men’s, because he used to do men’s, and he used to do really good men’s,” says Vaccarello, who is wearing, as he does nearly every day, a black leather aviator jacket designed by Slimane for Saint Laurent. “That’s why it took me time to find my own language.” He didn’t hold his first stand-alone men’s show until 2018, and even then the clothes echoed the vibe—think Viper Room habitué with a bad attitude—that had been established by Slimane. Vaccarello’s leggy and confident womenswear was rapturously received, and his menswear was seen as more of an afterthought.