A lesson on re-branding by PPR for (Yves) Saint Laurent

Yves Saint Laurent, YSL or Saint Laurent (Paris) is an iconic fashion brand which was inherently connected to the spirit of its founder, who retired in 2002 and died six years later. ”Motivated” by the lucrative fragrances and cosmetics line of Yves Saint Laurent (today licensed to giant L’Oreal), the owners of the house since 2000, PPR Group, have been failing to come to terms that the spirit of Yves Saint Laurent cannot be replicated.

Tom Ford, the first Creative Director of the maison after the withdrawal of its founder, produced hugely successful collections boosting the awareness of the brand, but his designs were Tom Ford and not Yves Saint Laurent. Acknowledging the fact that Tom Ford was merely consolidating his own brand and his own power image, PPR Group later appointed Italian designer Stefano Pilati, the opposite personality.

Neither Ford, nor Pilati created any signature pieces or looks while designing for Yves Saint Laurent! Ask yourself if you can remember any particular look or any particular collection by the two designers, while at Yves Saint Laurent, but I am sure you would recall one of the fragrance launched during this time.

After taking over the executive role of his group last year, Francois Pinault stubbornly pledged to revive once again Yves Saint Laurent. And earlier this year, PPR came up with a re-branding of the house, dropping the first name of the founder Yves, but only for the fashion and accessories, the full name being kept by L’Oreal for the fragrances and cosmetics business.

To add to the controversy, which must have been the essence of PPR’s strategic repositioning strategy, the company appointed Hedi Slimane as Creative Director. An extensive PR campaign followed his appointment, focusing on the fact that Slimane would design from Los Angeles and not from Paris. During all this time, no word from L’Oreal, which could not be more pleased about the controversy which generated the much needed buzz to push sales for the fragrances and cosmetics business under the Yves Saint Laurent brand. Last month, ahead of Paris Fashion Week the house pursued its confusing PR campaign of the re-branding by showing some basic sketches, hardly even renderings, of Slimane’s new concept for the Saint Laurent stores, the first to be unveiled in Shanghai. The poor quality images reflected only some structural elements in an empty space.

Earlier this week, Slimane showed during Paris Fashion Week, his much anticipated first collection, so lackluster that even the widely known ”positive” journalists could hardly find the wording to praise the collection. But once again, controversy sparked and less than 3 days after the catwalk show instead of design related coverage, the international media has been flooded with Slimane’s retort at fashion critic Cathy Horyn, alleging that she has an “agenda” and calling her a “publicist in disguise.”

As a climax to this failed strategy, based purely on controversy, came a lesson about branding by the (Yves) Saint Laurent PR department to BOF’s Imran Amed, which included demands for editing a Tweet. Other outrageous ”branding manual” excerpts followed, again by the now infamous PR of (Yves) Saint Laurent.

I would not even dare imagine the reaction of Yves Saint Laurent, himself…

Oliver Petcu


(Yves) Saint Laurent, photo by brandsfever.com