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Saint Laurent AW16 Los Angeles Palladium Greatest Hits
Saint Laurent AW16Photography Delon Isaacs

Hedi Slimane’s greatest hits: unpacking Saint Laurent in LA

The designer put on an electrifying show that underlined the principles of his own vision – whether it will be his last remains to be seen

The light show that’s so good you’d swap every lamp in your house for it – and bathe in the shadows of strobing modernism forevermore. The instant, euphoric guitar-shred that pushes your posture back and your eyes closed, but you stop short of throwing your arms up and swaying them in the air because you want to drink in all that silk and divine handworked couture embroidery. And you know who else does? Grace Coddington, four seats away, in Saint Laurent skate slip-ons, covered in gold glitter.

One of the many brilliant things about a Hedi Slimane show is that the music is always way too loud for the venue – particularly impressive given the grand spaces Saint Laurent presents in. In top-tier, concert-grade audio it is somewhat heroically crystal clear, as immaculate as his tailoring, without any compromise. The music is crucial, an expression of how you feel when you put these clothes on, a no-holds-barred vitality, of grabbing life by the horns.

This time however, the whole context was different: we were in Los Angeles, two and a half weeks after Saint Laurent would usually show in Paris, headlining the entire fashion season. This was Saint Laurent at the Palladium, Hollywood’s iconic concert venue that has seen everyone from Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, Dylan, The Grateful Dead, Guns N’ Roses and Prince take to its stage (the venue’s opening act in 1940 was Frank Sinatra). Suffixed ‘The Saint Laurent Los Angeles show’, this is the first time we’ve ever, somewhat surreally, driven ourselves to a fashion show – and had the valet take care of our car. Such a simple thing is a big thing: if you’ve ever spent time in LA, you’ll know how the automobile is ingrained into the culture of the city, everything is built on secret entrances and round-the-corner car drops. The motor car is arguably the 20th century’s greatest metaphor for independence and freedom. That fits perfectly with this house.

Most of the audience were VIPs – yes, that was Courtney Love front row, chewing gum, spitting it out, sticking it underneath the bench seating and popping in a fresh stick as the 71 models and musicians –  93 looks in total –  strutted past. Joan Jett was satisfyingly sat next to Justin Bieber, in a microcosm of badass then and now. The latter air-drummed his way through the exclusive soundtrack, “She’s Gone” by PYPY. The former rocked the aftershow, followed by Allah-Las, an emblem of new California with two killer albums under their belt. As did performers from Jumbo’s Clown Room, making a pole into art, their thighs their paintbrush. The bands playing were a rollcall of unpasteurised energy – Bleached, No Parents, Cherry Glazerr, Kim and the Created, Mystic Braves. And 90s icon Beck.

The 90s were important. This was the decade when Hedi Slimane made his debut at this house, creating menswear that would not only change men’s fashion but also inaugurate it as a genuine concept. There is a scene in the fashion flick The Devil Wears Prada in which Anne Hathaway’s character doesn’t understand that her blue jumper in that room is a trickle-down product, spread from a decision made years before. That sentiment applies here: Slimane created a generational archetype for getting dressed.

We should talk about the clothes, which would have to be pretty special to live up to all of this. Of course they were – if you’ve ever visited a Saint Laurent store you’ll know the detailing is unparalleled. Slimane is a designer who commissions exclusive fabrics instead of just buying them in, engraves the back of zips, a detail only you can see, and lacquers sneaker shoelaces. Because he knows the details make the thing. It’s the difference between a glass of apple juice and a coupe of amazing vintage champagne. It is also entirely celebratory, a tribute. Each garment comes loaded with subtext and elevated in the make – whether referencing California’s surfers and skaters riding empty pools or the legendary Le Smoking, the iconic couture tuxedo of Yves Saint Laurent, the pinnacle of tailoring.

This was, in fact, a greatest hits, that underlined the principles of Slimane’s vision. Confession time: the creative’s 2005 collection of glam tailoring is my favourite (even if such a notion is a bit like picking your favourite sibling). Who doesn’t want to roll around in a fedora and gold boots so good you wouldn’t think twice about surgically attaching them to your feet?

“When every piece is turned up to ‘11’ and worn with the desired nonchalance of a t-shirt scraped up off the bedroom floor, why would you ever want to wear anything else?”

The Palladium show, of mostly unisex pieces, combined that glam spirit with 2013’s Psych Rock collection – the other favourite, so forgive the freaking out – and celebrated 50 years of Yves Saint Laurent’s ready-to-wear line, formerly known as Rive Gauche. What better way to mark the occasion than with more entirely hand-worked couture embroidery than you can wave a thimbled finger at? Gold mink coats, mink caftans, tiger markings, feathers, leather jackets with fox sleeves, gold velvet. And a jacket described in the notes as ‘Marquis de Sade’! The musical note motif, featured throughout, dates from a 1982 YSL Rive Gauche print, as relevant now as ever.

Mr Yves Saint Laurent, after the shock and awe of his rebel vision – he was the first designer to do a retro collection, scandalously referencing wartime Paris; the first to show breasts under a sheer blouse; the first to do haute couture biker jackets, in crocodile – once famously commented, “I always believed that style was more important than fashion. They are rare, those who imposed their style, while fashion makers are so numerous.” Style is the ultimate, as it summarises an enduring vibrancy, of personality, spirit and a life beyond clothes, however fabulous they are. This is exactly what Slimane was reinforcing here. And don’t forget that Los Angeles is his Marrakech.

When every piece is turned up to ‘11’ – assuming you’re familiar with the reference – and worn with the desired nonchalance of a t-shirt scraped up off the bedroom floor, why would you ever want to wear anything else? Shake up your wardrobe and your life will follow. Viva Slimane, viva YSL.