Ade Hedi Slimane – a summary of his time at Saint Laurent

©Collage / Julia Zierer

The most persistent rumor in the fashion industry has been confirmed – and now French fashion house Saint Laurent has issued an official statement: Designer Hedi Slimane will leave his post as Creative Director of the brand.

His departure from the traditional Parisian house is probably a bigger controversy than his 2012 inauguration, when he was appointed Creative and Image Director. At the time, the Parisian designer with Tunisian and Italian roots took over complete responsibility for the image and collections of the brand, founded in 1961 in Paris by the company’s namesake Yves Saint Laurent. The founder, who died in 2008, is remembered as a revolutionary in fashion history. In the 1960s he shook up contemporary fashion standards, above all with his men’s suits for women, transparency and the legendary Mondrian dress.

As Slimane took office as head designer in 2012, critics made accusations that he would leave the claims of the house’s founding father behind and degenerate into commerce. Slimane opponents saw the first evidence of a break with the roots of the house in his decision to rename the label Saint Laurent and to move the design studios to Los Angeles, where the Frenchman has lived since his departure as Head Designer at Dior Homme.

The fact is: Only three years after beginning, the company has doubled turnover and there’s no forecast of a future slump in sales. From an economic perspective Hedi Slimane managed to extricate the prêt-à-porter label out of trouble. High on the shopping list of women the world over are slim tubes, cool perfects, tight skirts and dresses next to glittering 60s Chelsea boots, studded belts and casual bucket bags.

Coupled with economic success, Hedi Slimane simultaneously revolutionized the prêt-à-porter label. He reduced his collection to a single fashion formula: wearability. The fact that he didn’t attempt to reduce the brand’s roots was even acknowledged in 2014 as New York Times journalist Cathy Horyn, who was among the original opponents of Slimane when her invitation to the shows was revoked. In her essay “The Business of Style” published in T Magazine, she attested that Hedi Slimane was both a commercial and cultural genius, writing:

That is, until Hedi Slimane revived them at Saint Laurent. His are not so sweet, but that is not the point. Slimane located the moment when the brand was truly cool, the years between 1965 and 1968. His predecessors at Saint Laurent tended to look at the whole YSL career, going for the key moments. Slimane, though, has largely confined his view to a single window. Then, adding a dark gloss of California rocker angst, he has kept his message stunningly simple – to the point where his clothes, while clearly high in quality, have the attitude of a trendy street label. It’s as though he refuses to strive for the standard goals of a luxury designer – to make modern, conceptual or intellectually resonating clothes. Instead, he makes straightforward commercial fashion that a woman can instantly relate to.

His most recent collection also works according to this scheme – again we find echoes of the wedding of the fashion house. Slimane quotes the old master, who in the 1960s was one of the first designers to bring transparent fabrics to the catwalks, causing quite a scandal with the quasi-naked models. Critics today see Hedi Slimane’s fashion concept as equally scandalous. They deny, as Cathy Horyn mentions in her text, his simplified and constantly recurring statements of fashion as cultural expression.

In fact, even with his latest collection the Frenchman achieves his typical rock’n’roll chic. The fluffy, oversized cardigans in leopard print, transparent glitter dresses with spaghetti straps, the faded Army shirt or the perfect beige trench coat once again have what it takes to become international best sellers this coming winter season. Only the staging of his fashion shows still offer something of a surprise. There is nowhere with a music selection, which he uses to support his presentation, as innovative as with Slimane; Size zero models, who are usually cast from the street, give the rest a wow effect.

Some see his constant repetition as unimaginative. So was the headline in Icon, the lifestyle section of the German newspaper Die Welt, after his last show: “Think of something new for once, Hedi Slimane!”

Likewise, one could similarly accuse his critics of no longer having an appropriate approach to fashion and have proclaimed Hedi Slimane as the savior of prêt-à-porter. Because he’s taken up a need that was not solely caused by the democratization of high fashion by bloggers and social media. In a constantly changing, globalized world, one where we can hardly grasp relationships, we yearn for simplicity. With his fashion, Hedi Slimane is not calling on us to consider what political or intellectual statements we want to make. We can simply put them on and look cool – done!

The best evidence that this was the course that was commonly adopted in prêt-à-porter is probably the most recent successes of the Italian fashion house, Gucci. Since he took over in January 2015, Alessandro Michele has played with the 70s nerdy retro-chic look over and over. At Gucci the hype is at a high point. Their stores are magnets for every woman who can afford the extravagant fur slippers, the logo bags with bee closures or the floral bow blouse.

However, with his work for Saint Laurent, Hedi Slimane has already achieved his revolution. He proves it with his last official act as Head Designer, by transferring the presentation of his men’s collection and pieces of the women’s collection to Los Angeles. On February 10, Hedi Slimane will not only celebrate his first goodbye at the Palladium in Los Angeles  – there is one last women’s show to give in Paris – but will also celebrate the arrival of prêt-à-porter in pop culture. According to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung it’s a confession that only five days after the show the Grammys will take place in Los Angeles.

As labels such as Gucci & Co. are on jumping on the commercial train that Hedi Slimane got out of the station, he’s on a new track. We’re excited to see what direction he’ll take prêt-à-porter and above all: for which label. There are some interesting places for the designer – like the post at Dior. At any rate, one thing is sure: prêt-à-porter won’t disappear as long as there are creative and visionary minds like Hedi Slimane’s.


Author: Christine Korte (editorial lead FLAIR MAGAZIN Berlin)
Translation: Alicia Reuter