So it happened. Honestly, we knew it was coming, but it doesn’t soften the blow any. At midnight, April 1st, Hedi Slimane announced that he was leaving his self-styled house of Saint Laurent Paris. April fucking fools.
Everyone has that designer. Artist. Musician. The one who just speaks to them. Hedi is mine. I’ve been trawling Grailed for DH dead-stock since well before they had a search function. I don’t think I’ve ever bought anything on eBay that he didn’t design. I refer to the collections by name, and have a particular penchant for SS06, because who doesn’t want to live in a place where ‘the world was a mess, but his hair was perfect’.
I know all the criticisms, and have to give them (at least some) credence. He does stay within a relatively narrow aesthetic niche (the most fuckable mope rocker on earth), he does continually recycle (or upcycle, depending on your level of fandom) the same looks. Like, how many variations on studded perfectos and teddy boys can one come up with? Everything he produces is ruthlessly, almost caustically expensive. The cuts require some form of manorexia in Y chromosomers, and virtual two-dimensionality in females. But I don’t care.
Because Slimane’s output should reasonably silence his detractors. Fine, maybe it was actually Raf who designed the skinny suit (and, incidentally, not doing something before Godfather, Pablo Picasso, poly-morphing Raf is hardly embarrassing), but Hedi popularized it. Mythologized it. Since Kawakubo Rei in the 70’s, it’s hard to think of a single designer who literally created a new silhouette. And never has one been so overwhelmingly adapted, since perhaps Poiret and Courrèges respectively pioneered trousers and jeans for women.
He invented the faux-hawk. Shot the Fame Monster cover (taking primary photographic aesthetics back from Juergen Teller’s heroin chic, while simultaneously nodding in the director of both Newton and Cartier-Bresson). Made clothing so covetable that Karl Lagerfeld lost a 13 year old girl worth of excess weight in order to fit into it.
The day that Tom Ford was appointed CD of YSL (where Hedi started pre-Dior Homme), he quit, and went to Dior. A few months later, when he and Ford debuted their first collections for DH and YSL, respectively, Pierre Bergé and Yves Saint Laurent skipped Ford’s show altogether, and led a raucous standing ovation for Hedi’s collection. Mytho-poetry game strong.
Of course, he also got us to a place where trashed denim costs more than regular (you know, pre-trashed) denim, and has prominently featured models so thin that one of his advertisements was literally banned in the UK. Shhhh. Body con been done body con. And no one person can be blamed for body dysmorphia, because we’re all to blame. Actively or passively, aggressively or tacitly.
One can’t help but wonder where he’s going from here. And, unfortunately, I have a sneaking suspicion that it’s to a place with no scissors or thimbles. After leaving DH he said he would only get back into the fashion game for the house of Saint Laurent. He experienced rabid success as a photographer in the interim, showing across the globe, and publishing countless photography tombs. It’s possible that he’ll eventually come back to fashion, either taking over Uncle Karl’s mantle at Chanel, or starting his own house. But, for the time being, I doubt it.
The fate of SLP is another giant question mark. These are some seriously large Cuban-heeled Chelsea boots to fill. Great artists espouse a certain singularity. Kubrick once said “One man writes a novel. One man writes a symphony. It is essential that one man make a film”, and the comparison holds. To create not just a look, but a world, takes a certain something. We’ve all heard the Anthony Vacarello rumours, and there’s a certain aesthetic parity there. But, honestly, while he has the ‘dripping sex’ evening wear side down, that inimitable Parisienne, no fuxks given, day wear thing just isn’t in his wheelhouse. I can’t see him nailing the painted-on grey jeans, ankle-grazing crushed silk scarves, and boyfriend bomber look that is SLP’s bread and butter.
And, not for nothing, but the brand has been doing spectacularly well. Business of Fashion reported that SLP more than doubled annual sales revenue to €707 million in 2014, up from €353 million in 2011. Many people are wondering why Pinault didn’t just back up a Brinks truck, but presumably there’s more to this than meets the eye.
So, yeah, here we stand. I’m not quite on some WH Auden, Funeral Blues, “The stars are not wanted now; put out every one” tip, but, make no mistake, it’s a dark day. So I’m going to leave it to Frank O’Hara….
‘It is easy to be beautiful; it is difficult to appear so. I admire you, beloved, for the trap you’ve set. It’s like a final chapter no one reads because the plot is over.’