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November 06, 2013 11:17 am Photographed by

Hedi Slimane: Irreverent or Genius?

By MOAM Staff

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There is perhaps nothing more intriguing than the allusive provocateur. An artist, who stays in the shadows, yet is able to command media attention because of the contention surrounding their work, and their aversion to social interaction. The asocial creative exists in the various forms of artistic expression. In the world of fashion, Hedi Slimane is this artist. However, when you become creative director for one of the most revered fashion houses in Paris, controversy demands explanation.

As the creative director for Saint Laurent Paris (formerly Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche), Hedi Slimane has been the subject of debate amongst the biggest names in the fashion industry. His debut and follow-up spring and fall ready-to-wear collections were the second most viewed collections, only the Chanel show was able to garner more attention than Slimane’s designs. Showing luxe-boho and giant floppy hats for spring, and a grunge version of the babydoll dress for fall, Hedi Slimane has ignited a face off among the old establishment and the rebels of fashion.

Slimane began his career in 1996, when he was hand-picked by Yves Saint Laurent co-founder Pierre Bergé, to be the director of the men’s ready-to-wear collection. Slimane was even fortunate enough to have Yves Saint Laurent in the front row during the unveiling of his first menswear collection. During his time at the fashion house, the founders were hoping to reinvigorate and raise the awareness of their brand, as Marc Jacobs had done for Louis Vuitton, whose success was documented in the 2007 film Marc Jacobs and Louis Vuitton. Their wishes were granted during the fall/winter show of 2000-2001, when Slimane revealed what would become his remaining legacy in the fashion world… the skinny suit.

Mr. Slimane took this skinny silhouette with him when he became the creative director at Dior Homme in late 2000. Slimane made the Dior Homme name synonymous with edgy men’s fashion from 2000 to 2007. Famously, Karl Lagerfeld told the press that his motivation for losing nearly 60lbs was to be able to wear Mr. Slimane’s clothes. This popularity spread beyond the fashion elite, and into the rock and roll world. Slimane’s name became associated with rock stars like Jack White, Pete Doherty and David Bowie. The latter even presented Slimane with the CFDA designer of the year award in 2002. He was the first menswear designer to receive this honor. While Slimane was racking in the accolades, Dior Homme was racking in the dollars. According to Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessey (LVMH), in 2002 sales at Christian Dior boutiques jumped 44 percent thanks to Slimane.

In late 2006, Slimane chose not to renew his contract with the brand, and officially parted ways with Dior Homme in 2007. In the years following, he kept a pretty low profile. Spending most of his time in <Los Angeles>, Slimane pursued his passion for photography. However, in 2012 when Yves Saint Laurent demanded the help of their former protégé once again, he could not resist. Although this time, he came with an agenda.

First on the list, rename the brand. Slimane changed the ready-to-wear collection from Yves Saint Laurent, which had existed since the 1960s, to Saint Laurent Paris. Immediately, this sent fashion critics into a frenzy. Slimane quickly assured critics that this was not an act of disrespect, but an attempt to take the brand in a new direction. Which is pretty much all he said, as Slimane is notorious for being antagonistic to fashion critics and media outlets.

The newest debate is surrounding his choice to use infamous and ill-mannered rock stars for the brand’s 2013 campaign. Courtney Love, Ariel Pink, and Marilyn Mason represent some of the faces modeling the collection of Slimane’s designs. Naysayers argue that nineties rock stars are the antithesis of Parisian style and Slimane is destroying everything Yves Saint Laurent stood for.

Bergé stands behind Slimane and his provocations. Perhaps he understands that only fashion history will be able to judge how Slimane’s creations will be received. However, Bergé has a current litmus test, which are sales. Since the debut of Slimane’s collections, the clothes have been flying off the shelves. Many retail buyers are complaining of selling out too quickly, or not having inventory at all.

Whatever one feels toward Slimane, there is no denying he is good for the bottom line; revenue. So the question then becomes, does the young generation care about legacy, or do they just want what is cool?

If the history of the fashion house’s namesake is any indication, cool was always the priority. In 1966, when Yves Saint Laurent revealed Le Smoking, it sent shock waves through the streets of Paris. The women’s trouser suit, inspired by masculinity and androgyny, is one of Laurent’s greatest achievements. Laurent became the designer who understood the changing of a woman’s role in society. He understood that women would be working and taking the metro, and this made him a visionary.

However, following his death there were many who questioned if Laurent deserved the accolades that he received, arguing his work was simplistic and lacked genius. Sound familiar?

 If Slimane’s character is represented by his creations, cool at house Saint Laurent is here to stay.

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