Par Purple Haze & The Girl; Photographe Vogue Runway
Hedi Slimane's vision for Saint Laurent became almost like the Pentagon. This giant armored institution you know nothing about, except that its power is immense.
The year is 2010. They are making fun of me, again. I don’t understand why. Maybe it’s because of the way I look. I am different from the other girls at school, for whom models are not only ideal but also an echo. Ghosts and spiders loom and squat across my mind. My social circles have almost dwindled to none, so it is only natural for me to run to the library. I am utterly engulfed in the apparent safety of my sanctuary. I slowly, languidly trawl the shelves. There’s a grey book, by a photographer named Hedi Slimane. I don’t know anything about him, although the name does sound a little bit familiar.
I turn the minimal cover and I fall into an entire world – a world that’s clearly unimpeded by colour and prejudice. As I allow my eyes to wander through the pages, a hint of a smile gathers at the corners of my mouth. There is a redemptive element in the noir that drapes the photos, an ultimate compassion for my suffering and a swath of pure beauty and mystical awe that cuts right through my heart. Can’t you see? This man is the lighthouse on the far shores of my murk.
But before we go any further, allow me to talk about fashion. You see, the old lingua franca of fashion was once authentic and the imagination and individuality of the collections were fascinating. They would refer to the late Yves Saint Laurent as a God for a reason. The monsieur wrenched high fashion away from the nouveau riche and delivered it to the hands of frail-looking youthful women. The “smoking”, the peacoat, the see-through blouse – this was a staggering portfolio of designs that lesser mortals had spent years studying, imitating and knocking off. He rendered the term ready-to-wear reputable and subsequently redefined the perception of fashion. But after Saint Laurent retreated the world all together, we have seen a shift away from genuine expressive clothing articles toward a nebulous, unwearable monstrosity. Which ultimately, prompts the questions – what happened to authenticity? What happened to using art as means to unite, escape, transcend and inspire other human beings?
Ask Hedi Slimane. He should know, because out of all the designers in this bankrupt world, he is the only one who understands what the true currency is. And that is, to communicate through art. To many it is mere dress code; to Slimane it is a state of mind.
Flash-forward to the year of 2013. The screen before me reflects this sullen avatar I no longer recognise. Thankfully, it is Paris Fashion Week, which means that escapism reigns supreme. I am eagerly waiting for Hedi Slimane’s third show for Saint Laurent. Ever since he took the helm at the iconic house, critics have rendered his vision as a fabricated media construct, as a mere juvenile trend responsible for commercializing rock ‘n’ roll and an insolence towards the legacy of the French house. He even provoked a blizzard of online dissent when he moved the studios from the streets of Paris to the city of Angels. But yet again, critics create pomp and circumstance to make a living.
I am nervous. ten, nine – what is he going to do next? eight – will it be an ode to Los Angeles, where he currently resides? Seven – the music comes slag-screaming down my backbone – six, five – scene is starting to reveal itself – four – it’s electric and makes the catwalk look like a concert stage. Three – a leggy figure is suddenly emerging, two – I gasp. One – Models clad in dishevelled looks stamp their boots like petulant 90s children. My angst is illuminated on the catwalk; my rebellious disarray written all over the clothes
He has flipped my nostalgia for the louche aesthetic that characterised Seattle grunge into the perfect dishabille designs. Embroidered sloppy cardigans, Cobain's Jackie O sunglasses, washed-out flannel and technicolour prints evoke a smell of teen spirit. The grunge aesthetic was born out of necessity; its birthplace was cold and musicians had little money. Their jeans were ripped and they wore flannel because it was available. But grunge was an act of revolution; wear what you want, hyperbolise the colours and mix the styles. And this, in a way signified Slimane’s own revolution. In the subsequent years, it was either Hedi’s way or the highway.
From cross-legged indie kids occupying front row seats to banning journalists from attending the shows, he completely and utterly turned the system on its head. While industry stalwarts like Christopher Bailey, Olivier Rousteing and Riccardo Tisci parade in social media with stoned smiles and narcissistic nonsense, Hedi’s vision for Saint Laurent became almost like the Pentagon. This giant armored institution you know nothing about, except that its power is immense. Hedi’s mysterious impassiveness imbued so much magnetic dynamism that rendered the house of Saint Laurent and parent company Kering with a colossal boom.
Today, everyone I seem to meet is fascinated with Slimane’s insight into the way the youth unconsciously pick and choose opinions, quirky tastes and non-negotiable convictions. But beyond his fearless showmanship and extraordinary craftsmanship, here is a man who is compassionate. “One day he randomly walked in and wanted to take pictures of Lolipop”, Wyatt Blair tells me. “He has been really nice to us and he treats us well.” Similarly, Michael Leicher who fronted the Psych Rock campaign back in 2015 tells me that Slimane “helps bands get their name out there, which is really cool.” And John Platt, the Managing Director of the flagship store, first caught Hedi’s attention while working in vintage. “He gave me this job and I am super grateful”, he tells me.
I think Hedi is a concept or an idea, or an inspiration. He is someone to watch in awe and not capable of being kept, at least not without stripping his elusive magic. Which is why, after four years, he exited the house of Saint Laurent.
Even in his next endeavour, I doubt we will ever know who he truly is. He is like the moon – part of him will always be hidden. But there was a moment a month ago, where we saw a glimpse of him. When he ended his tenure at Saint Laurent with an haute couture show, model and muse Lili Sumner came down the stairs in a red heart-shaped fur cape. For the first time, Hedi exposed his heart. To the late Yves. To Pierre Berge. To us.
When the show ended, he came out and everyone in the vast room leaped to their feet, with the most unreserved ovation. The applause was not just for Hedi’s faultlessly assembled show. It was for his authenticity; for his refusal to conform; for redefining fashion; for keeping rock ‘n’ roll alive; for exposing his heart. But most importantly, the audience jumped to its feet to thank Slimane for making them feel a part of his vision. And that’s when I knew that we are in the brace of a man who is as otherworldly as a God.
They are making fun of me, again. But this time, I belong somewhere. █