In 2006, for my final year of political sciences, I was writing an essay about how Rock and Roll was once a rebel culture and had since become a style for luxurious fashion brands. By 2006, Hedi Slimane had fully transformed contemporary fashion by re-inventing men’s fashion at Dior Homme. For the skinny jeans, all-black outfits and multiplication of loose tee-shirts on runways, fashion can thank Hedi.
Although I’ve never met him personnally, it seems like I’ve known him for a long time. In 2014, I was at Saint Laurent Paris showroom, in a venue which grandeur also matched its roughness. Le Grand Palais was the perfect shelter to Hedi Slimane’s collection, as he had joined the revolutionary (mark the word) and respectable parisian house less than a year before. Everything was manically branded. All-black pencils and notepads were handed out to buyers, refreshments came in the form of bottle of waters bearing the same all-black label, even the napkins were all-black. As a famous hip-hop moghul once said: all-black-everything. And that name stood out, in its white minimal glory: Saint. Laurent. Paris.
Every classy woman in the world must have gasped in 2013, when they saw their beloved YSL monogram disappear from the tags, to let the brand become Saint Laurent Paris, letting the first name Yves settle into history. The fashion industry had rarely seen such a drastic rebrand, even less so when it comes to iconic brands. But Hedi Slimane is a man of integrity and his vision requires revolutionary actions to fulfill his full potential.
Upon his appointment at Yves Saint Laurent as Creative Director, not only did he request a rebranding which would allow to transform the brand into a timeless concept which would keep a legacy of Yves Saint Laurent – what marketers would call its DNA – but which would also be free creatively. He also requested that the creative studio was moved from Paris to Los Angeles, at great costs for the company. Materials have to be shipped between the two cities as well as brand executives and staff.
The recent rumors of Hedi Slimane’s departure from Saint Laurent Paris, 3 years after his arrival have uncovered more about the controversial designer. His requirements were of course dramatic, but the brand grew a lot in return. Commercial success was definitely achieved, and even our market – Vietnam, will soon have its first Saint Laurent Paris store, opening in Union Square, Ho Chi Minh City.
While the suspense amounts on whether Hedi Slimane will stay at Saint Laurent, let’s review his contribution and how his design style has made a mark in our closets. Before he took the direction, Yves Saint Laurent was viewed as a traditional brand with great class and elegance, representing Parisian glamour. But most of us often forget how controversial Yves was. One of the two biographic films that have released in cinemas in the past years narrates Yves Saint Laurent’s carreer with all his personal struggles, related to his love life and different abuses. While we all know creative geniuses have their dark side, our culture nowadays tends to forget that drama fuels the designer’s imagination as well as our own fantasies.
With his grunge collection released within one year at Saint Laurent, worn by super-pale skinny models, styled with rough make-up and disheveled looks, Slimane reinvented the brand’s rebellious DNA. While Yves had emancipated Women by creating Ready-To-Wear collections in opposition to Couture, one could say Hedi has reinvented the concept of Woman, acknowledging that a woman was once a girl, and can be both at the same time.
While many brands such as Marc Jacobs had chosen to design for women then diverted a line for younger girls (Marc by), Saint Laurent is an integral brand, both for lolitas and youthful mothers. The Woman by Hedi Slimane is one who knows what she wants, but knows what to let go. Rock and Roll was initially dismissed as a “silly” youth culture, but we now know that it was truly a culture for the smart. Hedi Slimane has successfully rebuilt Saint Laurent, connecting it better to contemporary lifestyle and the rich cultures shared by his clients.
Powerful women wearing Saint Laurent are the ones who know their art, who can share coffee with writers, who invest in young talents – like Hedi who surrounds himself with up and coming talents as icons too, instead of chosing huge celebrities. Whether we’d like to wear torn jeans or not is not really the matter when it comes to understanding Hedi Slimane’s collections.
It is all about feeling empowered and meaningful. The style is loud and uncompromising. Saint Laurent is what Yves Saint Laurent was: a haven for creative explosion and total control of your identity.
Who are the most admired people in the world? The ones who are true to their heart, faithful to their mission. This is the essence of Hedi Slimane’s work: to pursue a wild path of creation, where cricticism and controversy means you matter.
For us, wearing Saint Laurent is a statement of boldness and honesty.
I may not always be a fan of Hedi Slimane’s collections at Saint Laurent. But I can say that I admire the energy, the confidence and the intelligence that transpires from the women he dresses up.