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PARIS Spring 2004

Since January 2003, when PPR (Pinault-Printemps-Redoute) announced their intent to acquire stock in Gucci Group, rumors have circulated that the eventual departure of Tom Ford as Artistic Director, and Domenico De Sole as CEO, was inevitable. Hours before the most recent Saint Laurent show, the International Herald Tribune reported that "sources close to the conflict say that after six months, the renewal of Ford and De Sole's contracts has reached an impasse. PPR wants Ford to back off as Gucci Group's creative director to concentrate on the core brand; and Ford, who did not return calls on Sunday, is insisting on rebuilding the loss-making Yves Saint Laurent."

Mr. Ford's bargaining power was not helped by two pieces of bad news this week. Gucci Group announced on Wednesday a 47% drop in earnings for the first half of the year compared with the same period in 2002. Then on Thursday, PPR released financial results reflecting a 16.3% drop in turnover for the third quarter. By Wednesday, Domenico De Sole rushed out to give a statement to the press, saying "these are contracts that come to an end in 2004. There are lots of things going on, and lots of rumors circulating. As soon as we are ready, we'll make an announcement."

So it was rumor that stole the show, rather than the clothes that Tom Ford presented for Spring / Summer 2004. Mr. Ford has always had an uneasy time of it at Saint Laurent Rive Gauche, and his problems were clearly reflected on Sunday in a collection that proved once again that he can not step free from the long shadow of a living legend.

Yves Saint Laurent, the name looms up out of the 60s and 70s. It became a household word for many Americans after the founding his Couture House in 1961. Along with Pierre Bergé, his then lover and business partner, Saint Laurent built his reputation by presenting uncompromising elegance mixed with creative ingenuity. And he pushed the respectable limits of fashion - posing nude for the launch of his perfume opium, dressing his ladies in tuxedos and masculine suits, and sharpening his eye for street smart chic despite the haze of opium and alcohol that surrounded his Bohemian life style.


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