Tuesday, 26 April 2011

THE YSL QUESTION

Yves Saint Laurent with his longtime muse, Catherine Deneuve.

Before the John Galliano saga kicked off, fashion’s favourite spectator sport was gossiping about who might replace Stefano Pilati at Yves Saint Laurent. Even after the brand’s owner, the Gucci Group, released a statement saying that Pilati was going nowhere, the rumours persisted (“well, they would say that”). It’s true that Pilati has not found the public (and, indeed, critical) acclaim that other designers in similarly plum jobs have enjoyed, but the task he faces at YSL is by no means easy.

Yves Saint Laurent was indisputably one of the greatest fashion designers of all time, and his legacy continues to live on, especially in France where it is an untouchable national institution. Any designer working at the house since Saint Laurent retired in 2002, and passed away in 2008, faces a massive burden of expectation and responsibility to somehow uphold Saint Laurent’s gold standard. Under these conditions, trying to produce collections which are true to the house’s heritage yet sufficiently modern and fresh to hold people’s attention today is surely no walk in the park. As Pilati himself has noted in an interview, it is very difficult for any designer at the house to establish their own personality through the collections. Neither Tom Ford nor Hedi Slimane lasted long at YSL.

And then there is the prickly issue of the relationship between the Saint Laurent estate (controlled by Pierre Bergé) and the brand. The memory and legacy of the late Saint Laurent dwarf the current reputation of the house itself. Stefano Pilati’s access to the YSL archives is limited (they are controlled by Bergé) and associations with the brand are kept scarce, to say the least. When the major Saint Laurent retrospective took place in Paris last year, bizarrely there was no invite to the opening nor offer of a private view for Pilati, who had to attend as a regular visitor, but became self conscious and left when people started to recognise him. This disconnect between the business and the heritage surely does not help matters, although I can understand why Bergé, who spend his life building up the house with Saint Laurent, is reluctant to welcome in the new guard.

Kate Moss, wearing 'new' YSL, posing against the entrance to the Yves Saint Laurent - Pierre Bergé Foundation in the SS08 ad campaign, which is rather telling given the relations between the brand and the foundation.

Still, doubters of Pilati, a former heroin addict who worked with Giorgio Armani and Miuccia Prada before joining YSL, will point out that his collections have often been critically panned, sales have been low and, anecdotally at least, the brand just isn’t that popular. How many people do you know who own anything recent from YSL, other than the one-hit Muse and Downtown bags, or the Tribute shoes? You rarely see a celebrity pictured wearing Saint Laurent, the brand seems to lack attention-grabbing editorial coverage which other labels enjoy, and the sales approach in the boutiques can verge on the desperate. An assistant at YSL in a major London department store once told me that they hadn’t sold a single thing for weeks, while other concessions had been buzzing; a friend bought some YSL shoes not so long ago, then received a phone call a few months later practically begging her to buy something else.

A look from Pilati's fall/winter 2011 collection for YSL.

An article in the New York Times from 2008 says that the brand had not been profitable for over a decade. The label’s financial results are available as far back as 2004 on the Gucci Group’s website. They are hardly glowing, but by some accounts they paint a much better picture of Pilati than the critics do…under his creative directorship, the brand has become profitable for the first time in over 10 years, and losses have steadily reduced since he became creative director in 2004:

2004: loss of €71 million
2005: loss of €66 million
2006: loss of €49 million
2007: loss of €32 million
2008: broke even (i.e. profit of €0)
2009: loss of €10 million
2010: profit of €12 million

Last year, 33% of sales were leather goods, 26% ready-to-wear, 22% shoes and 19% other. Even the rather more lucrative Yves Saint Laurent beauty division has been unable to counteract the house’s losses over the years. In 2006, for instance, the beauty division’s profits were €32 million, against the fashion house’s €49 million losses.

To compare YSL to other Gucci Group brands, last year Gucci made a profit of €765 million, while Bottega Veneta raked in €133 million. Both brands were profitable throughout the 2005 – 2010 period, despite the credit crisis.

I hope I haven’t bored with too many figures here. If you’re interested in the business of high fashion, you can find out all sorts of interesting things from the Gucci Group/PPR, LVMH and Prada annual reports, to name just a few. The economics of fashion never ceases to baffle me.

9 comments:

  1. u so smart gurl friend

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  2. Personally I don't get it. His work is exteremly beatuiful and a dark and sleek goth kinda way. And if fashion is based on aesthetic value then how on earth is his work not selling?!
    Is it just a case of "oh he isn't as good as Yves" and them being loyal to the late YSL? Ugh

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  3. people just want balmain crap, i guess.

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  4. I don't understand how they can have such huge losses when other fashion houses like Gucci have such massive profits, especially since all the designs are so beautiful xx

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  5. I'm french and i can tell you that here, no one is interest about YSL for many reasons:

    1- Pierre Bergé
    he is not beloved here and he's basically the man who destroy the brand in the 90's because of his "licence" thing. The brand had lost her prestige in selling umbrellas and all that stuff. In the 90's, YSL wasn't exciting anymore and the good jobs of Alber & Hedi where overshadows by Mr St Laurent Drugs problems and many issues.
    When Tom Ford Came back, he bring the excitement back at YSL and sorry for many people, EVERY COLLECTION HE DID WHERE PURELY YSL AND PERFECT!!
    I think that Ysl & Bergé where a little bit jalous about that and they always find a way to attack him on the media...but the success was there.

    2-The Lack of support from Pierre Bergé
    He never support any designer at YSL, except Alber & Hedi. And how can a brand be credible when the father of the legacy don't want to help you. Pilati is a very good designer and his early YSL collection where perfect Parisian Chic but, it seems like the YSL entourage love him more than Pierre Bergé. Betty Cattroux is a support of him and she was the only Mr St Laurent protégée who was at Every Tom Ford's Ysl collection.

    3- The Marketing Strategy

    Ysl is a totally cohesive brand but the marketing strategy is really bad. First of All, they released so much perfume since Pilati is there (Elle, Saharienne, Belle D'Opium, Parisienne..), accessories overshadows the Fashion: No one talk about the beautiful dress and all that stuff but everybody talk about the bags and the shoes...

    4- Too Much Past and Pilati's latest collections

    The 2 last fashion weeks shows something: YSL is an inspiration for many designers. Marc Jacobs, Frida Giannini and even Tom Ford made a statement and their collections had good reviews. But during this time, with all of those collections full of joy, Pilati offer Dark Fashion but YSL, the man was indeed Dark but his Fashion was full of colours...
    Everybody is confuse because Marc Jacobs make YSL better than at YSL.

    And that's because of the heritage division of YSL:Pierre Bergé. All of those exibitions are like a sabotage of Pilati's work. Don't Forget that, when Ford was there, Bergé made many exibitions to show true YSL. The problem is that the work of YSL was good from the 60's to the early 80's and it's really hard to make a future with a brand stick in the past like that.

    Chanel, balenciaga, Schiaparelli, Poiret who where Genius doesn't have as much exibitions like YSl had..

    I hope that YSL will find a new breath very soon

    @oscar: At least, Balmain sell fun and sexy fashion.. YSl is supposed to be sexy but, Pilati made it "Intellectual". Women and mens don't care about intellect but when a brand sell dream, fun and opulence, it works...Look at CHANEL. this brand is like no other. In recession times, Lagerfeld made Huge shows at the grand Palais and with 80 models..no one does that but, Chanel is today the show that everybody want to see...CHANEL=99years old..

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  6. Very interesting comment @Anonymous.. YSL really is a troublesome case

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  7. i LOVE what stefano pilati has done with ysl and i love stefano pilati's personal style. the clothes are beautiful and timeless... but at the same i think the clothes are either too practical and essentially obtainable elsewhere for cheaper or they're too riskay.

    it's strange that bottega veneta is more profitable than ysl though. masses aren't familiar with the brand and i'm pretty sure most of their sales are off accessories as i do not recall celebrities really ever sporting bottega veneta or anyone.

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  8. I guess I just have poor taste/judgement. The situation seems to be the same as Bruno Pieters for Hugo Boss in terms of collections I lust after. I really loved the last two mens collections that Stefano did for the menswear, they were my favourites of the season (fw10/11, ss11). However I have struggled to see any of it ever promoted anywhere, nor sold or promoted online, and it's impossible to find much further than the original catwalk presentation video.
    The womenswear has definitely never interested me from Pilati as much admittedly.

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