At Tuesday’s Saint Laurent men’s show in Paris, a handful of pieces on the runway had long been designed and finished. They were plucked directly from YSL creative director Anthony Vaccarello’s most recent womenswear collection, like an inky leather trench coat that closed that women’s outing in September. Last night, a model wore it with her own version of her draped hood. “I really want to put the man and woman on the same level,” Vaccarello said backstage, about ten minutes before showtime. “I don’t want to make them different…there’s an evolution [here] into a new collection, but I’d like to start with what he could have worn from the woman last season, and how he can reinterpret that in his own way.”

The clothes were presented with the exquisite cinematic flourish that is rapidly becoming a Vaccarello signature. “When I think of doing the collection, I always think of that guy or that woman in a film,” Vaccarello said. “It’s kind of a fantasy I need to have to start the collection.”

This season, Vaccarello’s set was the Bourse de Commerce, a former commodities trading floor, which after a painstaking Tadao Ando renovation now houses the art collection of Kering majordomo François-Henri Pinault. Just over 100 guests—a particularly intimate scale for a brand known for excess—were arranged on what looked like the world’s longest De Sede Snake sofa around a circular runway in Ando’s poured-concrete core.

When his cast emerged, it became clear that this production would be a dark, sensual drama. Costumed in Stygian floor-grazing overcoats with jutting shoulders and show-stopping evening wear—an exaggerated Le Smoking tuxedo jacket over precise trousers, a slinky blouse with a cagoule hood, a knee-length, tunic-like sequined turtleneck knit—these characters were mysterious and ineffably cool. Many of those looks that didn’t raid the women’s collection wholesale heavily echoed it, like those long knits, which for men are slightly shorter and thicker and styled over trousers. “I think it was more modern for a guy to dress like that,” Vaccarello said. As designers across the luxury spectrum attempt to negotiate the shifting terrain of clothing and gender with mixed results, Vaccarello’s shared wardrobe concept is a refreshing and real approach: exchange chic ideas between categories until both sides of the store look equally enticing. When a journalist asked if he imagines the Saint Laurent man and woman as friends or lovers, Vaccarello has a thoroughly modern answer: “They do whatever they want.”

Vaccarello is clearly at the most confident moment of his career. “For me, menswear started last season, I have to say,” he added, referring to his breakthrough Spring-Summer 2023 collection. Unveiled in Marrakesh, Before, he said, he made too many compromises, and put his guy—a rock star, not a leading man—too closely in conversation with the moment. There was no sense of compromise on the circular runway from this auteur: the palette was restricted to black, white, and brown, but mostly black, to focus the eye on the balanced silhouettes. By my count, it’s Vaccarello’s smallest collection, at 47 looks. (A previous men’s runway assortment pushed 70.) “I think more and more I’m editing. Maybe I’m going to end up with 10 looks,” he said with a laugh. He credits the birth of his son last year with helping him concentrate on the important things in life, and let go of distractions. “That’s why it’s really more straightforward and one point of view and one message,” he said. “I think it’s him.”

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