When Anthony Vaccarello arrived at Saint Laurent in 2016, he had enormous shoes to fill. In only a few years’ time, his predecessor Hedi Slimane had radically changed the public image (not the mention the name) of the brand, boosting profits by revamping nearly everything about its product lineup and point of view. As quickly as he arrived, though, he decided to leave, and Vaccarello came on in his place, in a very precarious position: The brand had just undergone a very public and very significant aesthetic shift, which had been very popular with shoppers, if not with critics. (It is the shoppers, ultimately, who matter to the brand’s parent company, Kering.) Vaccarello had to do more than just interpret Slimane’s work eventually, but the timing was all wrong for a big shift in the collection. After two years, though, the time for that might be now.
In May, I wrote about how a big part of Saint Laurent’s handbag strategy for the past few years has been having, like, literally a dozen or so very similar flap shoulder bags with logo hardware. The assortment changes a little bit with every new collection, but the look was developed very early under Slimane and it has ballooned to take up most of the handbag identity at YSL. The other big element of the brand’s handbag assortment is the Sac de Jour, which was was also a relatively early addition under Slimane that has remained largely unchanged in the two years since Vaccarello took over his job, with the exception of slight hardware tweaks and a less structured option for the bag’s bigger sizes. The public image of the brand’s bags has become a bit stagnant.
The most notable addition to the handbag stable under Vaccarello has arguably been the Bellechasse, which is a neutral, tailored shoulder bag without the logo hardware that characterizes most compact YSL options. It’s been a modest success, at least based on my perception, but it hasn’t been the kind of bag that’s turned the attention of bag lovers like many of the first bag debuts under Slimane. Vaccarello has shown some indications that he intends to oversee the introduction of more bags like the Bellechasse, such as the similarly unbranded Amalia, which is a logo-free saddle bag that’s newly in stores.
The problem Saint Laurent might be about to face, though, is that these new designs aren’t particularly distinctive or attention-getting, and the bags in Saint Laurent’s lineup that are, have all been well known by the public for years and are starting to show some fatigue. It’s important for all brands to have a line that includes plenty of quieter pieces, but because handbags are the public face of a fashion line to far more people than will ever be able to pick a brand’s leather pants or party dresses out of a lineup, it’s essential to have a rotating selection of super-distinct marquee pieces. If you let shoppers get tired of those designs without offering something new and exciting, shoppers tend to look elsewhere, and it then becomes harder to move those more subtle options, too. The keystone designs provide a hook for the entire brand, and they need to be kept fresh.
If you need a recent example of a brand mismanaging this schedule a little bit because of a designer change, you can look to Givenchy, which let the Antigona, Nightingale and Pandora sit around a little too long at the end of Riccardo Tisci’s tenure without providing something equally exciting to come next. (Granted, Givenchy tried with the Horizon, but the execution was a bit off, and the bag didn’t catch on as broadly.) Saint Laurent could potentially be headed toward this same boring fate, handbag-wise, if it doesn’t have something fun in the pipeline for shoppers in the next season or two.
That’s the impression I get from shoppers, anyway—plenty are willing to entertain the Slimane-esque styles for now, but he only provided the brand with so many re-interpretable ideas in his short time leading it. Vaccarello is going to have to venture further out into his own look soon, at least with a big debut or two. Let us know what you think of the state of Saint Laurent in the comments.