Yves Saint Laurent has a New Coke moment

So, Yves Saint Laurent has confirmed that new YSL designer/creative-czar-of-all-he-surveys Hedi Slimane’s first rebranding of the company that Yves built involves….dumping the Yves!

Albeit only from the ready-to-wear stores and labels. Instead of Yves Saint Laurent, the clothes will read “Saint Laurent Paris”, a name change that will take effect later this summer. The company will still be called Yves Saint Laurent, and the logo — an intertwined YSL — will remain. It’s a little confusing, no?

The company says it’s a return to the way the brand began in the 1960s, when the ready-to-wear, to distinguish it from the couture, was “Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche.”

I wonder how many contemporary consumers realise this, however? My guess is that it’s all YSL in their minds, which makes this move a real risk.

Likewise, maybe this is a way to separate the brand from its founder, giving it more flexibility and autonomy going forward. But as was clear at his 2008 funeral, Yves Saint Laurent the man was  – and still is — regarded as a national treasure, not just in France but the world over. To dump his first name is just asking for anger and it’s already started on Twitter:

“It’s like when they changed Opal fruits to Starburst only ten times worse”

“I vote we change Hedi to Heidi”

“Sounds like a chain of downmarket hotels”

And so on.

This can’t come as a surprise to the YSL folks. I mean, simply consider history. Actually, consider two words: New Coke. Or two more: HG. Both were transformations of beloved brands (Coke and House & Garden); both failed. Here’s the lesson I would take from that: leave the name. Change the image by changing the product. But I guess not.

Even beyond that and on a practical note, to change such a well-known name is also inviting consumer confusion. I wouldn’t be surprised if many think Saint Laurent Paris is a second line under Yves Saint Laurent, a la Valentino Roma.

On a more positive note, however, this has whetted my appetite for what’s coming next. I expect full and complete store transformation. And that’s before we even get to the clothes.