Saint Laurent's Accessories Business Is One of the Most Compelling Things Happening In Fashion Right Now

The Hedi Slimane-designed styles are developing a cultish following among fashion insiders. And other people, too.
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The Hedi Slimane-designed styles are developing a cultish following among fashion insiders. And other people, too.
The Saint Lauren Duffle 12, $2,600 at YSL.com

The Saint Lauren Duffle 12, $2,600 at YSL.com

In the media's eyes, Hedi Slimane's first two years at Saint Laurent have not gone smoothly. First, there was the Cathy Horyn thing. Then, there was the Colette thing.

But Slimane has also had his fair share of press hits. And not of the superficial kind. In October, Fashionista reported that several pieces of his Fall 2013 collection were already sold out at retailers including Net-a-Porter and Saks. It was a repeat of a hot Spring 2013 story, in which the New York Times spoke to several buyers who were bullish on Slimane's work.

But let's move beyond what the one percent are buying, and look at the house of Saint Laurent from a more holistic perspective. Those $1,290 star-printed mohair sweaters may very well be selling out, but that's also because there aren't very many of them being made.

Accessories are a different story. There are lots and lots of those. And the Hedi Slimane-designed styles are developing a cultish following among fashion insiders. Editors and buyers with a certain "I used to be a grunge goddess when grunge was actually a thing" aesthetic are carrying the understated duffle bags. (The Cut's Stella Bugbee and our very own Stephanie Trong come to mind.) And the shoes are popular, too. While searching for a pair of Chelsea boots this fall, I became fixated on Saint Laurent's "Blake" style, which were slim and narrow and had no bells or whistles to speak of. After an exhaustive survey of the Chelsea-boots market, I decided that the Blake was worth the $855 because it was exactly what I wanted. There was something with every other pair that was just not right: either the sole was too wide, or the leather felt junky, or there was some silly branding that ruined an otherwise respectable shoe. These, on the other hand, were perfect. The Blake is currently sold out on YSL.com. (I bought mine on Saks.com; there are still a few sizes available.)

Other Slimane best-sellers include the "Paris", a classic pump available in multiple colors, materials and heights that starts at $625, and the "Janis", a platform pump that starts at $775.

Back to the bags: Unsurprisingly, the "Sac de Jour" -- a familiarly shaped handle bag -- and the "Classic Duffle" -- with a name that's self explanatory -- are selling best.

And it's not just fashion-types who are buying these things. In the first half of 2013, Saint Laurent did $255 million in sales; that's $32 million more than the first half of 2012, and $103 million more than the first half in 2011. In other words, the stuff is making a mark. Particularly the accessories, which are the cornerstone of any luxury fashion business. "[Slimane] has cultivated a new customer that perhaps did not exist before under the YSL label," says Roopal Patel, a fashion consultant. "He's revitalized brand interest on so many levels."

The house has also handled the phasing out of (and holding on to) its former hits incredibly well. The "Muse" -- a mid-naughties relic of a handbag -- is nowhere to be found on the site. But the "Tribute" platform sandal is still very much there. As "over" as the Tribute might feel, it is still a popular shoe. And Saint Laurent has been smart about the way it's positioned. The style is currently available in 23 different versions on the brand's own e-commerce site, but all the way at the bottom of the shoe page. At the top are a variety of boots including the "Wyatt" style, a Chelsea boot with a modest heel that is available to both men and women. The Wyatt starts at $995 in suede and goes up to $2,395 for python.

But what is it exactly about Hedi Slimane's work at Saint Laurent that is drawing people in? Maybe it's that Slimane is not creating anything new. Instead, he's making the best version of things he already knows people like. It's an innovative strategy because its main component is common sense. "There's not too much fuss within that perfect shoe," Patel says. "And that's clearly working."