Tuxedos, safari jackets and chiffon gowns: the cult designer Hedi Slimane made his hotly-awaited debut for Yves Saint Laurent on Monday with a modern, rock 'n' roll take on the house's iconic silhouette.
Slimane's YSL debut had been billed as a duel with another top designer, Raf Simons, who triumphed with his ready-to-wear line at Dior Friday -- the houses being part of two rival luxury stables, LVMH for Dior and PPR for Saint Laurent.
But on Monday night all eyes were on the runway, and the marathon 55 looks sent out by the new creative mind behind the iconic house, four years after the death of its founder in 2008.
Saint Laurent's longtime partner Pierre Berge sat front row in the Grand Palais exhibition hall, alongside French first lady Valerie Trierweiler and the designers Alber Elbaz and Marc Jacobs, Vivienne Westwood and Azzedine Alaia for the most hotly awaited event of Paris Fashion Week.
With five minutes to go until the show, set in a dark, minimalist decor, the ceiling cracked open to make way for giant loudspeakers. As the music picked up pace, the audience held their breath.
In wide-brimmed black hats, big silk bows and heavy pendants at their necks, Slimane's models stepped out like moody gangsters, hands thrust in the pockets of slimline pants, under sheer black silk blouses. With the first few tuxedo-inspired looks, all tight jackets and skinny pants, the look was firmly rock 'n' roll and 100-percent Slimane -- except for the blouses and their chiffon bows which were very much Saint Laurent.
Black dominated as Slimane sent out linear silhouettes, like a floor-length dress under a sheer cape in a tiny leopard print.
The safari jacket -- another signature piece created by Saint Laurent in 1968 -- came as a sensual long dress, in suede or black leather.
And the flowing North African gandoura gown, which Saint Laurent adopted from his beloved Morocco, came in all colours for the show's explosive finale.
Berge, who co-founded the house with Saint Laurent in 1961, gave a ringing endorsement for what was also Slimane's first ever womenswear collection, since the designer made a name at Dior Homme.
"It's wonderful," he told AFP. "This house is in safe hands at last, after being so roughly handled for more than 10 years by Tom Ford and Stefano Pilati. Saved at last by someone who has an immense talent.
"Someone who is the worthy successor of Yves Saint Laurent, who knows how to play with Saint Laurent's codes, with Saint Laurent's DNA, without copying. He truly modernises them."
Berge had hired Slimane in 1996 to run the house's menswear division, taking over from Saint Laurent.
After the house was acquired by the Pinault family -- owners of the PPR group -- its collections passed into the hands of the American designer Tom Ford, who Berge never truly accepted.
Slimane returned to YSL in March after spending seven years at Dior Homme, and the past five working on his photography, his other passion in life.
Betty Catroux, a former Chanel model and muse of Saint Laurent said of Slimane she felt "totally at home with his style."
"He is our saviour," she enthused after the show. "I love the fact he has the same attitude as Yves Saint Laurent, a lot of things in common with him, he understands his times totally."
Trierweiler said she found the collection "sublime," both the slim-cut suits and the "breathtaking" flowing gowns.
"It's exactly everything I love," she said.
"I adored the whole collection, the attitude," Lanvin's designer Elbaz told AFP. "I loved the details, the shapes and the fact he took the codes but did it so much in his own way."
For the historian of fashion Florence Muller, Slimane did more than just reinterpret the house's "codes."
"He took in its whole history and made it into something for today."