Leaving the Paris schedule and format behind, the French house’s Summer 2021 presentation is a hypnotic ode to distant destinations

In the United States, the pandemic has been experienced by many as a shrinking of our worlds: trapped in our homes, it’s hard not to mourn the thrill of travel, and the wide variety of experiences to be found in places and people unknown. Yet for the fashion industry, this inability to gather in physical locations has led to other creative solutions—and with shows being presented in sports stadiums, cardboard boxes, and OMA-designed courts, it’s clear that for all its limitations, 2020 has expanded the definition of what a runway can be.

For Saint Laurent’s spring/summer 2021 collection, creative director Anthony Vaccarello furthers this trend with a presentation set in the surreal panoramic landscape of an unnamed desert. Bathed in golden light, models snake in single file atop striated sand dunes—a hypnotic mirage, made all the more striking by the blue skies above and vast, undulating curves behind. The film, shot by French collaborator Nathalie Canguilhem, feels like an ode to distant destinations, and the people that have become an oasis during this strange time (“I wish you were here,” reads a quote from Vaccarello at the film’s end.)

The clothes themselves appear spare and minimalist: a mix of austere silhouettes and loose, fluid fabrics promising freedom of movement. But the collection isn’t without personality: fur accents, exaggerated collars, and ’60s touches bring it to life, while statement jewelry designed by Claude Lalanne balances its overall aura of restraint. “The clothes are softer, the spirit more gentle,” Vaccarello says of the collection. “I wanted to focus on the essence of things. I think it’s a sign of the times. But I didn’t want anything bleak or heavy. The desert, to me, symbolizes that yearn for serenity, open space, a slower rhythm.”

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