Stefano Pilati officially stepped down from his role as creative director at Yves Saint Laurent yesterday. During his eight years at the helm of the house (preceded by four years assisting YSL's previous designer, Tom Ford), he's produced a rich body of work. His very first collection — a decidedly un-Ford lineup of girlish, ruffly silhouettes for spring 2005 — was widely panned, but had a great long-term impact: He’s now credited for single-handedly starting the tulip skirt trend in the mid-aughts. He's had a wild ride since then, alternately gaining accolades and condemnation from critics and, if rumorsareto be believed, barely holding on to his job at times. His last collection for YSL will walk in Paris on Monday. There's no word yet on what he'll do next; meanwhile, former YSL menswear designer Hedi Slimane is expected to take his place. Enjoy a comprehensive look back on Pilati's many seasons of YSL womenswear collections in our slideshow.
As if to differentiate his vision from Ford’s sexy designs, Pilati’s first collection at YSL was sweet and ladylike, with lots of tulip skirts, ruffles, and even some polka-dot prints. “It's something between the fifties and the eighties — which is my time — but to do it now, with volumes in a different way,” he explained at the show. The collection garnered some scathing reviews: The FT’s Vanessa Friedman criticized his “rather disastrous Chia-pet ruffled cocktail dresses,” while the IHT’s Suzy Menkes wrote that the skirts “looked like chicks in an Easter parade.” However, Carine Roitfeld was a fan, and put one of his polka-dot jackets on the February cover of Paris Vogue.
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Pilati was more restrained in his second YSL collection, telling Style.com, "I think now we want to be chic, considered, and rigorous ... and not to show our wealth so much." He cited Flemish paintings of nuns as an inspiration, translating them into stiff turtlenecks and lots of white lace detailing.
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Pilati told reporters at his show that he’d spent the summer researching Picasso. "I wanted something more spontaneous and passionate," he said. His Spanish influences morphed into flamenco skirts, pom-pom detailing, and brightly colored ruffles. He also showed trim-waisted skinny pants, which became a huge trend that year.
See the Spring 2006 YSL Collection
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Pilati won praise for his miraculous ability to make loose, back-buttoned tunics look sexy. He explained at the time, "You can wear a tunic over narrow pants, with a skirt, or as a dress. And I've seen from watching my sisters how sexy it is to unbutton something at the back. You need a man to help." Also, the collection didn't include a single pantsuit — an anomaly for the house that invented Le Smoking.
See the Fall 2006 YSL Collection
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Pilati said he was inspired by violets, "which to the Greeks symbolized modesty, humility, and virginity — and the feeling of transition from spring into summer.” This led him to create a dirt runway planted with hundreds of real purple violas, which models had some difficulty navigating. The collection (particularly a pair of drop-crotch pants) was met with some critical skepticism, particularly regarding the show's complex staging.
See the Complete Spring 2007 YSL Collection
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Classic and spare with interesting details like mink shaved to look like crocodile skin, this collection was a strong recovery from the spring's violet-covered runway. Cathy Horyn wrote, “All the way down the escalators of the Pompidou Center, the site of the show, and into the street, you could hear editors saying, ‘At last, something to wear!’”
See the Complete Fall 2007 YSL Collection
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Spangled with a metallic star motif, this collection proved that Pilati had indeed mastered YSL's signature tuxedo suit. But perhaps the most groundbreaking aspect of this season was Pilati's use of sweatshirt material to make everything from tailored dresses to pants to drapey tops.
See the Complete Spring 2008 YSL Collection
Like the rest of the world, Pilati was affected by the crashing economy; he reacted by turning to YSL's archives and producing somber new variations of Le Smoking in pinstriped wool and patent leather. The dark mood was accented with lots of polished black leather and molded into curve-hugging silhouettes, but also, in one unfortunate case, a baggy jumpsuit.
See the Complete Fall 2009 YSL Collection
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Pilati's show notes deemed this collection "a natural and honest chic." The clothes were arguably the most minimalist of Pilati's work, rendered in crisp, neutrally colored cotton and silk.
See the Complete Spring 2010 YSL Collection
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The chunky gold chain pendants in this collection were borrowed from YSL fashion photos that Pilati clipped out of magazines from the seventies. He added black capes, high necklines, and bonnetlike wide-brimmed hats. "It's about protection," he explained at the show.
See the Complete Fall 2010 YSL Collection
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Following a popular YSL retrospective exhibit at Paris's Petit Palais (Pilati was scandalously excluded from the opening gala by Pierre Berge, who disapproved of Pilati's designs), Pilati's spring 2011 show was said to be a comprehensive tribute to the late designer. Mostly a careful study in sleek, classical shapes rendered in various shades of navy, the collection was punctuated with a few celebratory flourishes like this fucshia ruffle. Critics adored it.
See the Complete Spring 2011 YSL Collection
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Cathy Horyn raved that Pilati's "gutsy treatment of Prince of Wales checks — for suits with open-pleated skirts, smart-looking trousers, with full-sleeved ivory satin blouses, an adorable shorts one-piece with a black fur shrug — showed surprise and finesse. Nobody else has the look for fall."
See the Complete Fall 2011 YSL Collection
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What is now Pilati's second-to-last runway collection picked up on the sculpted peplum, a major trend for spring. It also highlighted his major forte and moneymaker: shoes. Gushed Style.com's Tim Blanks, "The shoes! The shoes! Front-rowers Kylie Minogue and Elettra Wiedemann could barely tear their eyes away from the footwear during the Yves Saint Laurent show today."
See the Complete Spring 2012 YSL Collection