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April 19 2014

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Inside Saint Laurent’s New Avenue Montaigne Flagship

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Even though he marked out some prime territory on both the Right and Left Banks of Paris, Yves Saint Laurent never set up shop on the ultra-luxurious Avenue Montaigne. But with Hedi Slimane one year into his role as creative director, the house is in full-on makeover mode—and that includes a new global flagship reestablishing Saint Laurent’s provocative spirit, only now on Slimane’s terms.

Although the store, which officially opens on Thursday, is not the first location to show off the designer’s monochrome, marble-heavy aesthetic (that honor went to Shanghai last fall), it offers the most thorough selection of women’s and men’s ready-to-wear, accessories, footwear, and jewelry. Slimane has a knack for retail design. His black leather benches share DNA with those of Le Corbusier and van der Rohe; no doubt someone will inquire whether they are available to purchase. There’s a VIP space with an L-shaped banquette that could comfortably seat a star’s entourage, and floor-to-ceiling matte screens at various points feature the designer’s personal photography.

You need only visit the Saint Laurent boutique on Faubourg Saint-Honoré to appreciate how Slimane has imposed his distinctly personal vision on the brand. The not-yet-renovated Faubourg Saint-Honoré shop represents the extroverted, glossy glamour of the Tom Ford era. The glamour of Montaigne is subtler, more severe, and even a bit offbeat. Just try naming one other luxury shop in Paris that plays The Byrds.

Accessories—including the famous duffel Slimane originally designed for himself—are given space to breathe on the ground level. The new Vermeil jewelry collection is presented in mirrored shelving within nickel-plated brass vitrines. On the second floor, scrims pulled down over the windows create a light-box ambience, underscoring the contrast between this twenty-first-century interior and the beaux arts building that the space inhabits.

Parisians, enthusiastic complainers that they are, might bemoan the store as too austere and un-Yves, that the space feels more Melrose than Montaigne, that even though you can still find a Le Smoking, a chiffon pussy-bow dress, or a wide-brimmed hat, it no longer has that je-ne-sais-quoi French touch. The French, of course, are also better at holding dear to the past than looking forward. Slimane might be headquartered in L.A. (where a Saint Laurent store is also opening this week), but he’s certainly thrown down the gauntlet in the City of Light.

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