15 Jul 2021
The Sasin Research Seminar series continues with a presentation by Gérald Mazzalovo, DBA. The talk, Yves Saint Laurent: Questions of Style, relates to a recently published paper by Dr. Mazzalovo in the International Journal of Marketing Semiotics & Discourse Studies Vol. IX, pp.1-21. (2021). The lecture began with an introduction to the paper and its three protagonists: the late couturier, Yves Saint Laurent; his business partner and companion, the industrialist Pierre Bergé; and Jean-Marie Floch, a scholar in the field of visual semiotics. The work of the influential Floch is at the core of the article, and Dr. Mazzalovo gave a brief introduction to the man and his work. At the heart of this paper is a semiotic study made by Floch that had never previously been published. Next came the article’s primary objectives. The first of these was an archaeological aspect that unearthed some of Floch’s unpublished and unfinished semiotic work on the definition of Yves Saint Laurent’s style. There was also verification of the validity of Floch’s research, both with YSL and others, such as Chanel. Examples of creative transition management were analyzed. This relates to the metamorphosis of a company with a name and brand centered on a famous designer after they die. The article also gave examples of how semiotics can help manage brand identity and discussed the concepts and issues of style in general, from the point of view of the brand manager. This led to further research tracks on fashion, style and brand identity. The paper was also intended as a tribute to Jean-Marie Floch and Yves Saint Laurent. Dr. Mazzalovo discussed the concept of style and its many semantic variations. Various writers, thinkers, academics, designers and architects have tried to define style. The style of Yves Saint Laurent could broadly be described as exhibiting eclecticism, paradoxes and ambiguities. Comparisons are made with Chanel, who had similar continuities, but the two also diverge on themes such as femininity and androgyny. The talk then moved on to a key theme in the article – the semiotic square “here / elsewhere” developed by Floch and Andrea Semprini in the late 90s. The square is based on Saussure’s assertion that any system of meaning is a system of dynamic relations and not only a system of static signs. These relations are established between “semantic poles”, which make up the corners of the square. In this case: here / elsewhere / not-elsewhere / not-here. To test the square’s applicability, Dr. Mazzalovo showed and discussed the application of the system to the designer, the creation, and the receiver (the customer). To further explore the themes, each section of the square was analyzed to examine their relevance for the designer, creation, and receiver. The lecture looked more closely a Floch, first in relation to Chanel, but then more in-depth with his attitudes to YSL’s creations. Floch described himself as having a “Flochian obsession” for the baroque and the classical. Mazzalovo discussed the point that the eclecticism of YSL’s creations makes defining concepts such as plastic invariants extremely complex. Yves Saint Laurent was described by many as both classical and baroque – he blurred the line of style. The article asserts there is a logical link between the “here / elsewhere” square and the baroque / classical visions. It doesn’t claim to have a solution to the problem but suggests the semiotic square of the “will to master” might make this connection. There is still more research to be done. The lecture was followed by a lively Q&A that discussed the semiotic square and explored themes such as bi-colors and verticality in Yves Saint Laurent’s work. The talk was fascinating and different from a lot of themes explored in the Sasin lecture series.