In September 2014, Hedi Slimane released Sonic, his latest photography book, excerpts of which are featured in an exhibition at the Fondation Pierre Berge in Paris. Taken over 15 years, the images cast an intimate, poignant gaze at the rock and roll industry, a subject close to the designer’s heart: manic youths in a mosh pit; Elvis’ grand piano at Graceland; the last portrait of Lou Reed. Despite the exhibition venue (Berge is the long-time business partner of the late Yves Saint Laurent), the project has nothing to do with the French fashion house Slimane presides over; but it has been re-energised by the same eye and influences.
Slimane joined Saint Laurent in 2012, but it’s hard to separate the brand from the man. The very things that define him as an auteur are now what drives the label. Originally slammed by critics as an erosion of the 53-year-old French institution, his decision to uproot its design team from Paris to Los Angeles – his adoptive home since 2007 – has helped him create consecutive hit collections.
His debut paid tribute to the city’s gypsy rock queens of the ’70s. His Fall Winter ’14 collection includes limited edition sequinned shifts with motifs by Santa Monica-based artist John Baldessari. In the same way that founder Saint Laurent sought escape and constant inspiration in Marrakech, Slimane has made Californian cool part of the brand’s DNA. Who says Paris has to be the place for a designer?
According to Reuters, the brand, which has stores at Marina Bay Sands (#B2-31/34) and just revamped its Ion Orchard boutique, is parent company Kering’s fastest growing label, with profits jumping 22 per cent last year. Part of its desirability lies in the way Slimane’s work resonates with the youth. Unlike, say, Phoebe Philo (who distinguished Celine with her reinvention of a modern woman’s wardrobe), or Raf Simons (who refreshed Dior by blending couture with street wear), Slimane is not about creating something new. For him, fashion is about connecting to carefree kids who could frolic in a Larry Clark film.
Take Fall’s fur coats and ’60s-inspired dresses: His pieces are what one can imagine finding at a vintage store or flea market (but made luxuriously). Since his Dior Homme days in the early 2000s, he’s known to street cast models, often the same indie type of boys and girls who appear in his portraits and inner posse. (At the men’s S/S ’15 show in June, the new front row crowd was made up of scruffy unknown adolescent males who sat on the floor in front of the celebrities and industry insiders – Slimane invited them.) It’s said that backstage, he puts together his runway looks on the spot, instinctively, creating each one to suit the model wearing it. Making these underground youths his muses has led to criticism – the Los Angeles Times’ Booth Moore famously tweeted at the F/W ’13 show, “Am I watching Saint Laurent or Topshop?” – but it has also allowed him to appeal to the next generation (and the many who want to be like them).
He’s doing the same when he commissions his emerging musician friends to produce the soundtrack for his presentations (for Fall, it was dream punk group Cherry Glazerr, fronted by 17-year-old Clementine Creevy). Or when he casts them, along with icons like Courtney Love and Marianne Faithfull, in the brand’s campaigns and Music Project, an ongoing series of portraits featuring rock stars in his clothes – all shot in the same vein as the images in Sonic. “It’s an idea of style, of colours, or proportions,” he says of his creative approach.
Many look to French fashion houses for being synonymous with high fashion, for setting trends and being innovative. Slimane has made Saint Laurent about image-making that celebrates everyday pop culture, and has inspired no less.
An adapted version first appeared in Female’s September 2014 issue.