From the moment Hedi Slimane took the reigns at Saint Laurent in 2012, he repositioned the fashion house at the intersection of high- fashion, youth culture, music and art. Axing the “Yves” and re-naming the brand Saint Laurent (provoking an onslaught of “Ain’t Laurent without the Yves” T-shirts and general uproar), Slimane slowly but surely re-mastered, re-engineered and re-defined the visual identity of the storied French fashion house. From a business perspective, Slimane’s four-year tenure saw him transform an unprofitable Yves Saint Laurent into Saint Laurent, a powerhouse positioned at the forefront of fashion, outperforming its peers to astronomical success. For everyone else, the words Saint Laurent started to embody new meaning, new possibilities, a new way of life.
Having spent seven years at the helm of Dior Homme, where he completely reconfigured industry perceptions of menswear through streamlined silhouettes and ultra-slim proportions, Slimane departed the house in 2007 to relocate to LA, pursuing his love of music and photography instead. Taking the reigns from Stefano Pilati at Saint Laurent in 2012, with Slimane’s reign came a number of firsts. From the moment he cast a woman – Saskia de Brauw – as the star of his inaugural menswear campaign and later selected the likes of Courtney Love, Marilyn Manson and Joni Mitchell to front Saint Laurent campaigns, to his decision to ditch Paris in favour of LA for the 50th anniversary of Yves’ Rive Gauche line (that saw a 93-look collection play out at LA’s Hollywood Palladium) — Slimane certainly shook things up.Twisting Saint Laurent’s tailoring traditions, he injected the brand with a new youthful rock ‘n’ roll aesthetic: Slimane’s personal love of music and youth subcultures were in the frame. Of course, a 360 degree approach was employed, not only did Slimane’s aesthetic resonate in his physical collections and in his personal body of work, but also in each casting decision, each carefully curated show soundtrack and in each and every Saint Laurent campaign.
Through his straight-up, unapologetic, sex appeal approach, Slimane captivated a new audience ranging from the rock stars seen sipping champagne on Saint Laurent’s overcrowded front row to LA’s adolescent bleached haired boys in torn-up T-shirts (a consequence of skateboarding, no less), and spray-on skinny black jeans. It’s the latter that provided endless inspiration for the designer who has successfully put youth culture back in our lexicon. It’s unexpected muses such as these that have found their way onto the catwalk, into campaigns and involved in collaborative projects. Often main features in the gritty black and white photographs displayed in the designer’s digital photo journal — Hedi Slimane’s much-followed Diary — his extensive documentation of music scenes was catalogued in Sonic, a five-month long exhibition at the Fondation Pierre Bergé in 2014, that showcased studio portraits of the likes of Lou Reed, Amy Winehouse and Keith Richards from Slimane’s 15-year strong archive.
However, it’s the fizzing energy of this new generation of emerging musicians, artists and general rock stars that has propelled Slimane’s vision for the past four years. From The Garden – LA’s identical twin punk duo Wyatt and Fletcher Shears – who Slimane plucked from obscurity to star in his AW13 menswear campaign, to his model/musician muse Sunflower Bean’s Julia Cumming, who’s now walked in four shows, Slimane profiled a laundry list of talent during his time at Saint Laurent.
Staging his final show in the restored 17th Century Hôtel de Sénecterre, Slimane’s models walked before a select handful of guests in compete silence, save for the voice of a woman calling each model’s number before they walked. An intimate affair that saw a couture collection inspired by the power dressing of the 80s unfold, despite the elegant, elevated surroundings, as Saint Laurent campaign star Paul Lemaire put it, “It was punk as hell”. From Lemaire, Cumming and musician Staz Lindes, to model Lili Sumner and teen-artist and collaborator (on Slimane’s Surf Sound collection) Lucia Ribisi — here, Slimane’s muses muse on him.