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Looking for the Sweet Spot

By Timothy Hagy

PARIS, July 3, 2005 - The House of Yves Saint Laurent, now owned by luxury-diversified conglomerate PPR (Pinault Printemps Redoute), has found itself in free fall. Troubles started back in 1999 when Pierre Bergé and Saint Laurent sold off the Rive Gauche Ready-to-Wear divisions, but retained direct control over the haute couture line. With the retirement of le maître in January 2002, the couture division effectively closed leaving only the men’s and women’s Rive Gauche line, then designed by American Tom Ford. Two years and millions of dollars in losses later, Ford left after failing to reach a contract settlement. Following in his steps, Italian Stefano Pilati was charged with “finding the sweet spot”, as it was put by new PPR CEO, Robert Polet.

Well, things have not been going well. Despite the help of numerous editors anxious to prop up the lame giant - those plugging the label have included the NY Times, Le Figaro, Vogue Homme, Vogue France and Vogue USA - the red ink continues to puddle.

So it is not surprising that the men’s collection for Summer 2006 was shown tentatively on a blazing hot Sunday afternoon in company headquarters on the Rue d’Artois. And what was seen on the runway was a continuation of previous seasons - namely a dandified look replete with tapered suits, casual wear intended for the yachting set, oversized bag accessories, and this season, a housecoat. Pilati has been needled by the same problem that got the better of Tom Ford, namely how to make the label speak to a new era.

Hedi Slimane found the solution during his tenure at the helm, but that kind of exoticism is missing nowadays. The current fare, presumably aimed at well-heeled gentlemen of the country club, will have to vie with Louis Vuitton and Hermès for attention.

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