Despite focusing on “design, not styling,” for all its low-cut, thigh-high zing, Anthony Vaccarello’s YSL debut played it safe.

“A clin d’oeil, a wink,” was Anthony Vaccarello’s description of his debut at Saint Laurent on Monday night. He wanted to lighten the legacy he’s inherited. “It’s heavy,” he said. “Everyone has their own interpretation, and I know I can’t please everyone. But neither could Yves.”

Or, he might have added, the handful of designers who have carried the torch since Saint Laurent’s retirement in 2002: Alber Elbaz, Tom Ford, Stefano Pilatiand, most controversially, Hedi Slimane, who has left Vaccarello with a billion-dollar business to sustain. Vaccarello insisted they’d all inspired him in some way, if only because their work for the house consolidated just how strong its design DNA was.

That point was underscored by the massive neon YSL dangling from an equally enormous crane over the heads of guests arriving at the show. Clearly heavy, but also all about light.

And that’s how Vaccarello found himself using materials he insisted were not at all him: fil coupé, lace, velvet, a gilded leopard. Not him, but definitely Yves. Same with the single leg’o’mutton sleeve that was one of the collection’s dominant motifs. Vaccarello was obsessed with a YSL dress from 1982. Which is where he got the sleeve — and the leopard. Only later did he see that dress hanging next to Saint Laurent’s office. So, some sort of Kismet then, confirmed by the statement by Kering chief executive Francois-Henri Pinault during the post-show dinner, that it had only ever been Vaccarello in the running as management’s choice to fill Slimane’s king-size shoes.

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