A Closer Look at Saint Laurent's Rebranding

As we approach Hedi Slimane's debut show for Saint Laurent, we spoke to some branding experts to try to better understand why everyone reacted so strongly to his branding changes. Were folks right to be upset, or was the reaction disproportionate to an action that really wasn’t such a bad idea?
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Dhani Mau
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As we approach Hedi Slimane's debut show for Saint Laurent, we spoke to some branding experts to try to better understand why everyone reacted so strongly to his branding changes. Were folks right to be upset, or was the reaction disproportionate to an action that really wasn’t such a bad idea?
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Tomorrow, Hedi Slimane will unveil his first full ready to wear collection for YSL, which will now be called Saint Laurent. But since we still have little to go on in terms of actual design from Slimane,

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Why Did People Get So Upset? One obvious reason the name change was such a big deal is that people don't like change. "Human nature is such that people don"t like change and whether it's a good change or a bad change, it’s still a change and it’s something different," Ashley Rosenbluth, director of corporate marketing at prestigious brand consulting firm Landor Associates, told us.

Mark Tungate, a journalist and author of books like Media Monoliths: How Media Brands Thrive and Survive and Fashion Brands: Branding Style From Armani to Zara, offers a more fashion-focused theory. He compares the name change to that of Christian Dior becoming merely Dior in early 2002. "Christian Dior had been in his grave a very long time, 40 or 50 years, whereas Yves Saint Laurent had died, what, three years ago; so it seems a little bit soon in people’s minds," he argued. "Particularly here in Paris, where the death of Yves Saint Laurent was a very emotional moment. People gathered in the streets to see his funeral procession; it was almost like a monarch dying. He was kind of a legendary figure, one of the last great couturiers, so people are very sensitive about his legacy."

We also have our own theory as to why the reaction to this was so big: the internet, which, as everyone knows, is a place for people to hate on things. Even though the internet was around when Dior got its makeover, it was hardly the place for, erm, discussion that it is now.

Speaking of logo changes that sparked a backlash, none of the experts we spoke with felt Slimane's decision was comparable to Gap's logo change fiasco from 2010, even if the reaction may have been similar.

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"Although it's a negative backlash, with YSL [Hedi Slimane] seems to have a strategy behind it," said Candy Washington, corporate marketing associate at Landor. "The new shows are coming up; he’s doing a store change as well and he has a history of doing this in the past with Dior (naming menswear Dior Homme), so I think he has more of a track record and a strategy behind it, whereas Gap didn’t really have a connection to the consumer. In this case, he’s staying the course and he’s supporting it and Pierre Bergé has

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Will it Help or Hurt the Brand in the Long Run?

Regardless of what led to the backlash, the rebranding should benefit Saint Laurent. "He got loads and loads of free publicity as soon as they made this move," said Tungate. "We’re still talking about it now. Before he’s even shown one item of clothing, everybody’s talking about this incoming designer...so it's kind of a nifty bit of PR."

"Even for a new customer looking into it, it gives them a way of learning about the brand and about the heritage at the same time," offered Rosenbluth. "They also created a dialogue espec through social media that wasn’t present before at YSL." Those 513 Facebook photo commenters who posted on the first photo Saint Laurent released of the new logo have to at least agree with that, right?

Plus, Rosenbluth believes people will eventually get over it. "Normally, people's initial response [to change] is to say, 'No I dont like it--it's different,' and usualy that fades over time."

So when will people begin to accept this particular change? Maybe when there's an actual clothing collection to go along with it--like tomorrow. We can't wait to see what Slimane has in store.