>> Stefano Pilati has an appreciation for things like Pee-Wee Herman, Glee, Rihanna, and LCD Soundsystem (which now provides music for Yves Saint Laurent's shows), but he also knows how to get serious. Yves Saint Laurent's sales have gone from nearly $100 million in losses to a profit, he tells W's February 2011 issue — not that it's been easy.
Because the label's founder so transcended fashion, Pilati says, he feels obliged to design to a higher standard — creating collections to build a woman's wardrobe over time rather than capturing a moment. His debut Yves Saint Laurent collection, he explains, “was the first time in my career that I didn’t think about a theme, when I started to think about something that could be timeless. I said to myself, You need to be relevant to a different level now. You can’t be only ‘I like red, and clogs instead of moccasins.’”
Working at Yves Saint Laurent has also made Pilati think about more than just the clothes he wants to create. "I’m not a businessman,” he says, “but I’ve become one by necessity.” It's routine for fashion brands to give accessories prime real estate in their ad campaigns — because handbags and shoes account for such a large percentage of their businesses. But Inez van Lamsweerde, who photographs Pilati's YSL ads every season with her husband, Vinoodh Matadin, says: “In the beginning, we almost had to beg him to put a bag in the picture. He said, ‘No, with this dress, you would not wear a bag — that’s not chic; that’s not how it works.’” Pilati has learned since — the latest Saint Laurent ads show Arizona Muse, bag in plain view.
When Pilati is asked whether he wishes he had a business partner counterpart like Pierre Berge to take all the commercial aspects off his hands, he replies: “It would be fantastic to be purely creative. Still, you want to walk in the street and see people wearing your clothes, and to do that you have to direct your creativity. So you already fulfill a part of what we think about as marketing from a commercial point of view. Giving the pantsuit to women — that was creative and instinctive, but it was also supported by the fact that women needed it, and, Berge or no Berge, Saint Laurent was the one who did it. The role of Berge, or today of the CEO, is to create a structure that can help your objective and sell the idea.”
There have been rumors about Pilati's standing at the company, but YSL CEO Valerie Hermann describes her relationship with Pilati as “a nice tension.” They have “constructive confrontations,” she says, but: “I’m learning from what he’s saying and listening with respect. What’s most important is that we always agree about where we want to go with the brand, and the confrontation is about how to get there.”
Pilati breaks his relationship with Hermann down as thus: "The roles are by nature split in the sense that the CEO has to respond to a group with numbers and performance and budget and business plans, while the creative director is almost at the service of the CEO. In those days, Saint Laurent was doing the tuxedo, and Berge helped him sell it. Now we live in a moment when we need to thank the CEO. I’m doing the bags, I’m doing the shoes, I’m doing the satin dresses, I’m doing the tuxedo, but if the performance of the brand is good, it’s because it has been managed well, and that includes managing the creative director.”