Why Saint Laurent dumped Colette

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Yesterday, Sarah Andelman – cofounder of legendary concept store Colette (213 rue St Honoré, Paris), announced that Saint Laurent Paris severed their EUR 400k-worth-per-year business for an anecdotic story of merchandising and hip ironic tees. Fortunately, we are not that dumb to gobble up the “these parody tee-shirts make fun of our brand and destroys its value”. Moreover when it’s obvious that the commercial relationship was better than fine and lucrative for everyone until the drama. So what’s really happening behind these smokescreen business talks? Why did Saint Laurent really trashed their output with Colette?

Saint Laurent creative & marketing teams seem to have gone reckless in their fight against resistance to their “beliefs”. Appointing Hedi Slimane looked like a good decision back when it was confidential and heavy suits clinked champagne glasses to celebrate their ingenious transfer. It sounded like the signing Zinedine Zidane at Real Madrid. But it also meant putting the brand in the hands of a cultural guru / rock star. Mind the words, you’ll get my point soon enough.

Kanye West
Kanye West

In the wake of recent controversy, no sane mind can really believe the fallout between Saint Laurent and Colette is only the result of some merchandising feud. The fact is Hedi Slimane is at war with Kanye West. And rock and roll culture is clinging to life as it can, confronted to the tide of contemporary hip-hop culture now flooding the floors and runways (Alexander Wang, Riccardo Tisci’s Givenchy, you feel me?)

The silent war has started a few months ago, but no serious fashion editor seems to have picked up on it yet. Most of our dear professionals have been doing what they’ve done for a long time: praising designers when necessary, ignoring them in other cases. Here we are looking at the big picture and a chain of events that should have triggered some experts’ curiosity:

1) Hip hop stars started wearing contemporary designer clothes – including slim pants, yes, these same skinny jeans brought back to the market by Hedi Slimane at Dior Homme.

2) Kanye West decided to try his way in Paris Fashion Week, challenging a very conservative milieu tolerant to culture only when it means “celebrities wearing our designs”.

3) Freshly appointed Hedi Slimane moves his studio to America, acknowledging a superior tide of trends coming from there, but keeps his nod exclusively to rock culture.

4) While Lady Gaga crossed minds with Nicolas Formichetti, Jay Z performed in a contemporary art gallery head-to-head with Marina Abramovic and a bunch of children of the rock and roll decades (Jarmusch, Apatow…)

5) As electronic music has had its way with rock music to finally blossom into a mainstream electro-pop industry (hello Calvin Harris, New Order, LCD Soundsystem), it’s now having a huge party of fun with hip-hop influences (hello trap music and dubstep fans)

6) Kanye finally clashes with Saint Laurent over a presence-at-show deal when SL allegedly asked mr West to attend exclusively to their event (thus demanding him to chose sides between them and Givenchy or Balenciaga whom he’s close to already). Which climaxes with a public slap on BBC to Hedi Slimane, basically claiming he’s now way behind. “Rap is the new rock and roll. We’re the culture.” // “Yeah, it’s been like that for a minute, Hedi Slimane!” // “We’re the real rock stars and I’m the biggest of all of them”.

Hedi Slimane
Hedi Slimane

So there we’re back to Colette. In Paris and New York, fashion followers still allow themselves to lean into rock culture but have overlooked the growing influence of street / hip-hop culture. Except Colette, who with always a step ahead has been a super stronghold of street culture x luxury for a while already. Regulars can testify they’ve seen Pharrell Williams and Kanye West hang around there consistently. The sneakers department of the parisian concept store has inspired a whole industry to move forward, and Nike has never been more powerful since the Jordan age.

Now who’s going to act surprised at the schoolboy retaliation played by Saint Laurent Paris and Hedi Slimane? You play with the wrong crowd, we can’t be friends anymore. That’s what it’s been all about.

People of the fashion industry, brace yourselves. War may have just started and these guys are going to take no prisoner.

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