When Hedi Slimane was appointed the new creative director of the Yves Saint Laurent fashion empire in March of this year, long-time fans of the brand felt it was in good hands. After all, Slimane had been ready-to-wear director of the mens collections at Yves Saint Laurent in the nineties before leaving for Dior. However, even before the release of his first collection, Slimane has sent a clear message that things are in for a change, thanks to what seems to be a radical branding shift.
Created in the early 60s by French designer and typographer Adolphe Jean-Marie Mouron, the original drawing of the Yves Saint Laurent logo is shown at right (via AnOther), with below the implementation that has become so associated with the brand over the last 50 years. It was a fitting identity for the first Parisian haute couture house to launch, in 1966, what was then a fresh concept: impeccably designed and created high-end, ready-to-wear women's clothing, in a collection dubbed "Rive Gauche," in reference to the famous Left Bank area of Paris.
YSL lovers were recently shocked to discover that their beloved clothing line was to no longer to be called Saint Laurent Rive Gauche but instead Saint Laurent Paris. Pesky enough, but the kicker was the disappearance of the classic logo. It had been replaced by just the name of the line, set in what looks suspiciously like Helvetica. The new look was first revealed on the firm's Facebook page (bad idea) and the horrified comments soon followed, now numbering in the hundreds.
In an internal memo, the firm's CEO reportedly stated that, "This change celebrates our legacy and heritage, while boldly marking our ambition for the future. It will allow us to return to the fundamentals of YSL and revive the spirit and the intentions that reigned over the creation of ‘Saint Laurent Rive Gauche’ in 1966: principles of youth, freedom, and modernity.” And of course, being able to afford very expensive clothing.
Indeed, there is some historical justification for this shift, judging by a photo of one of the original stores in the 60s that the firm posted to Twitter. As shown below, the store is using a simple, bold typographic treatment not that different from the new/old look. Brands have to evolve and their identities with them, moving ahead while leaving essential elements behind. In this case you can see the thinking behind the shift. But what is missing so far is any attempt to take into account the emotional attachment of many Yves Saint Laurent customers to decades-long aspects of the firm's powerful graphic identity. You only have to read the Facebook comments to feel the heat. But how hot does it have to get for the firm to react?