“You can find greatness everywhere. You just have to look for it,” said Harper’s Bazaar editrix, Glenda Bailey, quoting former Yves Saint Laurent creative director Stefano Pilati in a brief, prepared introduction. Ms. Bailey had been charged with welcoming the recently departed YSL designer to the stage as a part of French Institute Alliance Française’s Fashion Talks program. (Other fashion stalwarts this year include former president and executive creative direct of Coach, Reed Krakoff and designer Dries van Noten.)
With considerable buzz about Mr. Pilati’s exit after ten years at Yves Saint Laurent—one which had been the subject of many rumors—it was inevitable that the elephant in the room would be addressed. A throng of eager YSL devotees crowded Florence Gould Hall to witness Pamela Golbin, chief curator of Paris’ Musée de la Mode et du Textile, in conversation with Mr. Pilati.
The dashing Milanese, clad elegantly in a blazer, neck-foulard and thin-rimmed sunglasses, was greeted with much applause as he took his seat on stage. Mr. Pilati’s comfortable grin gave the impression that he had little to hide behind his shades… Thankfully Ms. Golbin started right away with the big question. Four weeks have passed since Mr. Pilati broke ties with the PPR mega-brand and Ms. Golbin inquired about how he was holding up. “I have a great state of mind! I’m really good, which is very unusual for me,” Mr. Pilati replied earnestly. He said that with his new found freedom, he has his “career in his hands.”
The Observer didn’t get too much more on the situation, except that the designer seems content with his numerous accomplishments and not having to dwell on the future: “I haven’t planned anymore,” Mr. Pilati told Ms. Golbin about his next professional step.
Most of Tuesday’s talk focused on Mr. Pilati’s quick ascension to the top of the high fashion world: From his internship with Nino Cerruti to his work at Giorgio Armani in men’s ready-to-wear (1993-95) and then a stint in Prada’s fabric research department, before becoming Miuccia Prada’s right hand man at Miu Miu (1995-2000). Mr. Pilati demonstrated a natural talent for selecting fabrics and navigated the politics of the design world well. It came as second nature for him— common sense—as if “to cook pasta without water!” Mr. Pilati credits Signora Prada as one of his major inspirations and mentors. The atmosphere at Prada though, was more familial than at Yves Saint Laurent, the designer stated. Prada was about the meaning whereas YSL was about managing an image. Mr. Pilati started at the famed French maison in 2000, working under Tom Ford, an experience he called challenging, but which gave him great confidence. Mr. Pilati was charged with reviving declining sales at the fashion empire and making YSL profitable, which meant creating “what the market was asking for.” Accessories became the principal solution and to this day, some of Mr. Pilati’s most memorable creations are iconic shoes and bags. He said the learning process of making coveted accessories as a highlight of his tenure at YSL, where he served as creative director from 2004 until this March.
Mr. Pilati describes himself as a passionate and complex person who loves to be spontaneous. These characteristics certainly influenced Mr. Pilati’s prêt-à-porter designs at Yves Saint Laurent and his work was not always adored by critics or the legendary founder himself. “To be controversial makes people think… there is always criticism… A controversy makes people stop… they can think what they want.” However, the passing of Mr. Saint Laurent in 2008 “gave me freedom,” Mr. Pilati confessed.
“If fashion was elegant it would be nicer to walk around and see people,” Mr. Pilati concluded with élan. When asked how the fashion world should remember his decade at Yves Saint Laurent, the designer commented that he doesn’t need any fanfare to commemorate his work,” Fashion is a privileged place.” Mr. Pilati’s words highlight his contentment with his achievements and the generous lifestyle he leads. It seems that despite all the fuss of calling it quits at Yves Saint Laurent, Stefano Pilati has found great peace.