|Courtesy of FIAF|
“Let’s not go there. Challenging is not the right word. It was traumatic! It was tragical. No, no, it was great, of course, it was great. You know what, Tom has such a self-confidence that you can really absorb it — he has enough for everyone around him, and I definitely got it. I was like, yeah, give it to me! I question every single moment of my life — about myself, what I do, what I say, what I didn’t say, if my idea is good or not good, you know. So imagine, somebody who actually brings me there and gives me a lot of responsibility. It was an amazing relationship.”
- Stefano Pilati on Tom Ford bring him to Yves Saint Laurent
Last Tuesday, I had the opportunity to attend Stefano Pilati’s first public comments since presenting his final fashion show for Yves Saint Laurent. This year marked the fifth anniversary of the French Institute Alliance Francaise’s Fashion Talks series. Hosted by Pamela Golbin, Chief Curator of the Musée de la Mode et du Textile at the Louvre and an inspiring woman in my mind; the series invites three leading designers to discuss their collections, inspirations and experiences. Attending the talks eluded me for several years due to travel and I’ve found myself sending friends in my place.
The talk was arranged prior to Mr. Pilati’s departure and Ms. Golbin opened the evening by mentioning that the occasion marked the one-month anniversary of the announcement of his departure. Mr. Pilati quickly put the room at ease by his reply “Yes, I thought it was quite chic to be here.” Mr. Pilati was witty, in good spirits, and affable. He possessed a boyish charm, but most importantly, he was humble.
What I admired most about Mr. Pilati was the discrete manner in which he discussed his tenure at Yves Saint Laurent. In an age when people exercise little discretion in the workplace, it was refreshing not to hear a harsh word uttered against Yves Saint Laurent. When pressed by Ms. Golbin, he was unable to identify a low point at Yves Saint Laurent. Several times during the evening he mentioned how lucky and grateful he was to work in fashion.
The talk focused primarily on Mr. Pilati’s career- his start in fashion at the young age of seventeen. Mr. Pilati spoke of starting in fashion at Cerruti designing classic menswear, suits, etc. where “You don’t design as much. There was no sportswear. Menswear differentiates itself by the fabrics. The fabrics fuels creativity.” I was happy to attend the talk with my very talented friend who happens to be a textile designer. I can’t think of anyone I know who would have enjoyed the talk more. Mr. Pilati spoke elegantly about his love of fabrics- working in the textile industry in Milan and later in fabric research at Prada.
Mr. Pilati quickly sited Miuccia Prada as the designer who most inspires him. It was truly a touching moment to see his respect and admiration for Miuccia Prada. It was fascinating to see Mr. Pilati look back at his time at Prada and Miu Miu in contrast to the YSL years. He recounted, “Prada was getting successful, but Yves Saint Laurent was international. Prada was a family situation. Things were literally discussed over Miuccia and Bertelli’s table.” Mr. Pilati painted a very clear picture of the shift from a familial business structure to “an American boss (Tom Ford), American mentality and business model” that dominated at Yves Saint Laurent.
There are many things that can be said about Stefano Pilati’s tenure at Yves Saint Laurent, however it’s undeniable that he rebranded and repositioned an unprofitable and overly licensed house. Pilati mentioned that designing for Yves Saint Laurent required him to “put aside his ego and freedom to make the house profitable.” Mr. Pilati humbly confessed that he wasn’t an accessories designer, but he learned. Judging by the commercial success of Pilati's Muse bag and Tribute sandals , I would say he's a fast learner.
I know I’ve mentioned it here, but I’ve always loved how Pilati approaches designing for women- it’s instinctive. Mr. Pilati spoke candidly of the few meals he shared with Yves Saint Laurent and the touching letters he received. We can only imagine the complexity of their relationship. Perhaps the greatest homage to Yves Saint Laurent was Mr. Pilati’s reply that elegance is the most underrated attribute of fashion. You can imagine I ate that up.
As for what’s next, that question remains unanswered. I’m anxiously awaiting Pilati’s next steps.