Parisian brand Saint Laurent's connections to the city of Marrakech, Morocco, run deep. Founder Yves Saint Laurent, who was born in Algeria, discovered Marrakech in 1966 and spent time there to escape city life in Paris.
"Once I grew sensitive to light and colours, I especially noticed the light on colours," he once said. "On every street corner in Marrakech, you encounter astonishingly vivid groups of men and women, who stand out in a blend of pink, blue, green, and purple kaftans."
The late Yves Saint Laurent was in love with the city's rich hues - which are also on full display at his Marrakech property, Villa Oasis, and surrounding gardens, Jardin Majorelle - but Anthony Vaccarello, the current creative director of the brand, could not have chosen a more colour-free location to unveil his latest men's collection for the brand on July 15: the Agafay Desert, situated an hour's drive from Marrakech.
While this was a homecoming of sorts for the house, the show was far from nostalgic. Tailored outfits, cut in loose silhouettes - in line with the 80s-style power suit renaissance that is happening right now - dominated the mainly monochromatic collection.
Saint Laurent is the go-to brand for fans of black - few designers can make the staple wardrobe shade as appealing as Vaccarello does - and the range delivered on that front, with sharp looks in a predominantly dark palette looking even more striking against the backdrop of endless sand dunes.
The androgynous tuxedo, which the late Yves Saint Laurent famously designed for ladies back when trousers for women were a rare sight, took centre stage, but in lighter fabrics and softer cuts that reflected the ease of Marrakech.
Front-row guest Romeo Gigli, one of the most influential designers of the 1980s and '90s, now based in Marrakech, called the collection "pure and contemporary", adding that it reminded him of David Bowie in the sci-fi film The Man Who Fell to Earth.
While the clothes were timeless, elegant and chic - a welcome change from the street-inspired sportswear we keep seeing on men's runways these days - Gigli does have a point when bringing up a science fiction film.
Vaccarello worked with London-based designer and artist Es Devlin to build a ring-shaped water structure in the middle of the vast, arid "moon-like" desert, which rose into the air and lit up as the models walked out for the finale.
Legendary actress Catherine Deneuve, who was a friend and muse to Yves Saint Laurent and spent time with him in Marrakech, was among the guests, who also included the likes of musician and actor Dominic Fike, of teen drama Euphoria fame; influencer and actor Luka Sabbat, and model Anwar Hadid.
Donning a pair of towering platform heels paired with shorts, Sabbat was ecstatic.
"It was one of the most beautiful shows I've seen in a very long time," he said after the event. "The wind even made the clothes look better. I think Anthony really figured it out at Saint Laurent. He does his thing and it speaks for itself.
"Look at me, I'm wearing platform heels in the desert for Anthony right now but when in Morocco with Saint Laurent, go big or go home."
Saint Laurent definitely went big, flying in more than 200 guests for the show - mainly editors, top clients and "friends of the brand" - a practice that has become quite common among mega labels for women's shows but is not as usual for menswear.
This event, which follows men's shows held in the past by Saint Laurent in locations such as Malibu, California, and Venice, Italy, speaks to the importance of the category to the maison and the overall apparel industry.
While womenswear still dominates in terms of sales, according to market research company Euromonitor International, menswear will grow faster than womenswear over the next four years, expanding to US$547.9 billion (S$766 billion) by 2026, at an average annual growth rate of 5.8 per cent, compared to 5.3 per cent for womenswear.
Saint Laurent has been experiencing rapid growth in recent years, even at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, thanks to the successful partnership between Vaccarello and the brand's CEO Francesca Bellettini.
Rooted in real clothes that guys with attitude will want to wear, this show stayed true to Vaccarello's vision of sophisticated elegance and will be remembered as a pivotal moment in the history of the forward-looking label and its deep links to such a remarkable place.
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This article was first published in South China Morning Post.