Mr Yves Saint Laurent with all time friend and muse Catherine Deneuve

For the fourth consecutive year, YSL has continued to be the black sheep of the GUCCI GROUP, with losses which have amounted in 2009 at EUR 10 million. Since the departure of Tom Ford as chief designer, the famous French fashion brand has been underperforming. It is not only a creative direction issue but also a strategic management one.

Despite Stefano Pilati’s inspired womens’ creations especially innovative accessories such as shoes or bags, YSL has continued to lose money. Was Anna Wintour right in calling the YSL line as ”boring” in her September Issue documentary ?

When Tom Ford was at the creative helm, YSL was often associated with sexy glam and chic accessories. Today, the YSL lines are the most expensive among its sister fashion brands within the GUCCI GROUP, in many cases even more expensive than Gucci. The stores design remains from the ”Tom Ford days” and to many it may seem outdated and lacking any unique characteristic. In a recent interview to WWD, Mr Francois Pinault, CEO of GUCCI GROUP admitted YSL was the brand with the biggest problems which led to the closure of certain YSL stores, especially in mature markets.

The most striking aspect about the brand’s performance is that, despite its constant presence in all th top fashion magazines such as VOGUE, the brand sales have been dropping constantly. It could be that the Stefano Pilati YSL has lost a clear identity. From season to season, the past half decade for YSL has been lackluster, without appealing to a specific consumer target. It is clear that the Gucci or Louis Vuitton client is not buying YSL and so it is clear that the Hermes or Ralph Lauren client is not buying YSL either. Who is then buying? Maybe the Lanvin or Balenciaga client could only be a random customer, especially due to the fact that Stefano Pilati does not have the huge media power that Alber Elbaz or Nicholas Ghesquiere have nowadays.

There is also another problem which the YSL has been facing and that is the fact that GUCCI GROUP has never really managed to ”make peace” with Mr Yves Saint Lauren himself who often criticized the direction of the YSL brand after he sold it to the Pinault family. Even after the death of the designer last year, the management at GUCCI GROUP have not yet realized how important the draw on heritage is at YSL, especially now during the crisis, which has prompted many top brands to look back at their heritage and concentrate on quality and craftsmanship.

If immediate measures are not taken, the YSL brand might face the same fate as Christian Lacroix or Escada.