Hedi Slimane (photo courtesy)
So the rumours were true. Earlier today luxury conglomerate Kering confirmed that designer Hedi Slimane is leaving the house of Saint Laurent after four years as creative director. For some in the industry it was a welcome relief. Others, meanwhile, are mourning the loss of a man who made looking like a Nirvana groupie cool again (albeit a very expensively dressed one). Never before has a designer courted so much controversy, but therein lies his enigma.
Slimane joined Saint Laurent in 2012 (he initially worked under Monsieur Saint Laurent in 2006) and made headlines from the get go. His first move at the house was to launch the controversial Reform Project, which consisted of a “retrobranding” which saw the removal of “Yves” from the brand name in an homage to the original branding of the 1960s – and unveiling a new logo.
Then, of course, there were the women’s collections and runway shows. Slimane sent out looks ranging from luxe boho and Seventies Los Angeles to grunge-inspired baby-doll dresses, ripped tights and plaid shirts, mostly in a graphic black-and-white palette. Although the styles varied, a youth-driven, trendy aesthetic tied all the collections together – a point brought home by the casting, which featured models plucked from the street, many of them stick-thin, androgynous looking, or indie musicians chosen for their slender proportions and ability to move on stage. Similar faces also lined the front rows as high-profile editors were relegated to seats in the back.
It wasn’t long before the fashion community was divided over Slimane’s work. Some were quick to hail him as a genius for appealing to a youth culture that was of the moment. Others chastised him for being lazy, self-indulgent and “disrespectful” to Yves Saint Laurent’s legacy, among them former New York Times fashion critic Cathy Horyn, who embarked on a full-blown Twitter war with the designer (she was banned from many shows).
Controversy aside, Slimane continued to do things his way. He went on to cast musicians such as Daft Punk, Courtney Love and Marilyn Manson in the brand’s advertising campaigns (known as the Saint Laurent Project), affirming his allegiance to music and photography over fashion. He also relocated the brand’s studios from Paris to Los Angeles, considered by many as a self-indulgent act of defiance.
A look from Saint laurent’s fall/winter 2016 show (courtesy of Nordstrom blog)
Most recently he moved the house’s men and part of the women’s autumn/winter 2016 show to his adopted home of Los Angeles, where he also unveiled video portraits of on-the-rise Californian musicians. For his latest fall/winter collection, show in Paris last month, he hosted an intimate, old school presentation featuring full-bown 1980s glamour in the form of embellished leather jackets, a sequinned catsuit, and the final look, a furry heart shaped coat that brought to mind the ultimate club kid, Leigh Bowery. It was a fitting swan song.
While Slimane’s leadership has been unconventional, the brand’s commercial success speaks for itself. Sales rose by a reported 37 per cent in the third quarter of 2015. If more proof of his talent were needed, look no further than the windows of any high-street store where you’ll find copies of Saint Laurent’s spangly dresses or rock-chick tuxedos.
It appears that Slimane and Monsieur Saint Laurent have more in common than was at first thought. Both men have marched to the beat of their own drum and both have presented collections designed to shock and to challenge the existing order.
And now that the time has come for Slimane to start a new chapter where it may be (rumour has it that Italian designer Anthony Vacarello will replace him), one wonders what legacy he will leave behind this time round.
Is he a creative genius, a talented stylist, or a marketing maverick? A look at fashion’s history shows that, from Tom Ford in the Nineties to Marc Jacobs and Phoebe Philo in the noughties, the most successful individuals are those who were able to think independently while creating fashion to reflect the times. It’s safe to say Slimane has earned his place among them.