25 August 2013

The Emperor's New Clothes

Dior Homme
Spring/Summer 2002

Dior Homme
Autumn/Winter 2002

Dior Homme
Spring/Summer 2004

Dior Homme
Autumn/Winter 2004

"Hedi's coming back!" 

Eyes dilated, hearts raced, choruses of hallelujah tickled at the edge of hearing. Supreme t-shirts, 19cm Made In Japan Dior Homme jeans and Vans trainers were dusted off (kidding). Skinny ties? Skinny suits? Skinny blazers with skinny jeans? Skinny male models? The reason Karl Lagerfeld lost weight? Most of what Topman have produced for the past several years? Hedi Slimane. Dior Homme. (...and Raf Simons, but don't mention that to Hedi). His legacy is inescapable, you only have to walk down the high street and look at what most men making their first forays into fashion are wearing. What was once avant-garde has become over-saturated. It is the natural cycle of fashion [insert fashion blogger favourite, Miranda Priestly].

Hedi was a cultural stylist of the highest order. His skill lay not simply in the clothes, but in the comprehensive image he created around the product - the music, the rockers, the shows, the stores, the very spirit of the label. Indeed he effectively stylised the very zeitgeist his clothing encapsulated. In terms of a lifestyle branding exercise, Hedi's work at Dior Homme is a masterpiece to study. In my opinion Raf Simons drew on youth subculture in a far more creative and subversive manner, but Hedi made it popular, cool, and most importantly, easily accessible. Young rockers pulled off the streets of London, Paris and Berlin, chicly tousled and dressed before being thrown out on the catwalk with the music blaring. The androgyny of the clothing (or rather its ambi-sexuality) attracted just as many women as men, and indeed Dior Homme sold spectacularly well to both markets. Like Armani in the '80s or Calvin Klein in the '90s, Hedi Slimane helped create a new uniform for the young men of the early '00s. 

When Hedi left fashion the rumours were that he would one day return to design womenswear, or come back to menswear when he needed "something new" to wear. You could imagine him in some unknown European indie club, surrounded by sweaty kids at 3 in the morning, meditating on the next paradigm shift in fashion while his fingers drummed to the beat. Would he return to Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, or create a line of his own? As it turned out he was actually drawn more and more into photography with his close up black and white pictures of LA rock royalty juxtaposed with that of skate and surf boys. He seemed to have moved permanently to LA, his pictures effusing an artfully stylised sense of 'reality' with distressed clothing, messy hair, bumps and bruises, made all the more dramatic through his high contrast up close style. Would he ever return to fashion? Well once the photography began to look ever the same, it was clear he had to branch out somehow.

Hedi worked at Yves Saint Laurent before Dior Homme, so news of his return to the house was not entirely unexpected. Although the unceremonious dumping of Stefano Pilati was quite a shock. In those few months there was a monumental shift in the fashion industry as the parent companies sought to replace artistic creativity with star power. To name but one example, the skill of Ghesquière far eclipsed that of the designer who now fronts Balenciaga. Hype sell better than good product though - Tisci is proof of that. It would seem that companies now want designers who appeal to the younger market, and can party with them too. Exposure is everything, and a designer who is seen with the right people can work wonders for the house. Admittedly there is nothing new in that, but the fact that the firings and hirings were all so close together was rather jarring. 

And so the pressure was on Hedi. To be honest it was a pressure that doomed any result to fall short. How had his time away changed him? He was still involved in music and youth culture to the same extent, but had migrated from Europe to the West Coast of America, a fact that actually (and in my eyes, unfortunately) ended up having far more bearing on his current work than anyone could have anticipated. People wanted Dior Homme 2.0 presented for women, or at least something similarly cool and current. I always find it fascinating when new names come to old houses. They are expected to mark out their own territory whilst still remaining faithful in some manner to the loyal customers' ideas of the house. You can reinvent, but not to the point of dislocation or crass renewal - think of it like the revealing of a new Doctor or James Bond, rather than an American remake of a foreign language film (...seriously, Oldboy, why?).

The first collection was presented - it was Topshop with a high fashion price tag. There was nothing new, there was nothing exciting, it was a safe collection that was rather forgettable...had it not been for catastrophic PR s***storm that followed that collection and each since (BoF article, Telegraph review, Guardian article, NYMag article, Cathy Horyn review). Yves Saint Laurent, Saint Laurent Paris, Saint Laurent by Hedi Slimane, Hedi Slimane for Yves Saint Laurent by Saint Laurent by Hedi Slimane of Saint Laurent Paris (ok, maybe I made the last one up, but Marc Jacobs would probably find that a zingy name). Name issues aside the fact that Hedi lashed out at any and all criticism was quite remarkable, it smacked of insecurity one would not expect for at least another few decades into his career as he began to lose touch with the youth market (although looking at Lagerfeld, you can probably get away with it if you work hard enough). Hedi seemed to think he was untouchable, and was incredibly vocal about that, which was great publicity for the house, and no doubt helped to pull in even greater sales, but it was off-putting to say the least.

His collections have been...average. Exciting enough for the LA crowd, but otherwise flat and soulless. With Dior Homme the clothes were just as important as the image he curated, but with Saint Laurent it appears the image has become more important than the clothes themselves. Yes he produces clothes in beautiful fabrics and with time-consuming details, but they are in and of themselves rather mundane. It is like going to a Michelin-starred restaurant and ordering a boiled potato. It will be the greatest boiled potato you have even seen or eaten, but there are far more exciting items on the menu (or at least, there should be). You walk around the Saint Laurent space in Dover Street Market, or Selfridges, and it feels like it should be cool and exciting, but it unfortunately comes off rather sterile and clinical - cool by numbers. And when we consider the design of his menswear, well as just about all commentators in London said, he could have saved a ton of money by just going to East London and grabbing all the young men in sight. The clothes looked nice enough, but that is the issue, they were only nice enough. The designs were nothing special, even if they had been made with spider silk or woven from the eyelashes of baby alpaca born only on a Tuesday (holla Sruli).

There are several inoffensive pieces I could imagine wearing if I particularly wanted skinny and sharp, but if that is what you are after, there are far more interesting places to look with far, far better pricing. To quote Cathy Horyn: "In terms of design, the clothes held considerably less value than a box of Saint Laurent labels. Without the label attached to them, Mr. Slimane’s grunge dresses wouldn’t attract interest — because they’re not special. But a box of labels is worth a million." Selling on brand name alone is nothing new, and to be honest it is the bedrock for the majority of the fashion industry today. But that is a necessary economic best left to the world of licensed products and cheap-but-not-too-cheap accessories, what with Margiela doorknobs and Ann Demeulemeester paper weights. The collections thus far have seemed better suited to a showroom than a catwalk, but of course without the music and the celebrity-packed front row, they would hardly pick up much interest. The illusion must be maintained of the sanctity of the catwalk - whether it is sending models out in nothing but underwear, or the most splendid couture dresses, the catwalk validates the designer and their designs. A rather unfortunate state of affairs, but one need only look at museology and the art world.

In his profile on Slimane in this month's US Vogue, Nathan Heller defends the designer, writing "A look through this trove [the Yves Saint Laurent archive] indicates what's frequently forgotten: Saint Laurent, like Slimane, was preternaturally attuned to the street style and eerie cultural echoes of his era. At Dior, where he, too, had an early stint, Saint Laurent designed a rebellious Beatnik-inspired collection; during the riotous Paris summer of 1968 - the season when Slimane was born - he channeled the mood of the time with fringed boots and duffle coats. In 1972, the year The Sorrow and the Pity came out, he designed a provocative forties-inspired collection inviting France to contemplate its compromised war past. And in 1976, as Russomania engulfed Europe and America alike, Saint Laurent unveiled his Russian collection. No wonder Slimane sees his work at the house not as reinvention but as restoration of this original tradition."

The issue I have with this defence is two-fold: firstly Hedi's work at Saint Laurent is not evocative of the current zeitgeist as Yves' was, and secondly, in hiding behind referencing old collections he is merely attempting to resurrect rather than reinterpret. We know Hedi can respond to current culture and style as evidenced by his work at Dior Homme, but with his Saint Laurent collections it has as yet all seemed a few years too late. These collections would have been fine a few years ago, exciting even, but now they seem rather old and tired. Dior Homme was so ingrained in the cultural happenings of its time that it is hard to ever truly understand it when considered in a vacuum. The Saint Laurent collections Hedi has shown are most certainly not, regardless of whether he has Daft Punk dressed and photographed for their latest album release. Something about it all just makes me think of a father sagging his jeans and turning his cap around to try and 'hang' with the kids (or Mr Buscemi).

Saying that Hedi's work is clever because of subtle referencing to Saint Laurent's work is also something of a lazy argument. Referencing heritage is perfectly fine, and indeed can be incredibly beautiful, but it requires a certain finesse...and, you know, interesting results. I personally hope Hedi can really turn things around and create something new, without feeling the need to stay entrenched in the past (both Saint Laurent's and his own). Dior Homme was so of the moment that these collections pale in comparison, they seem dated. And I sincerely hope the Saint Laurent archives do not make him want to pull a Lagerfeld, whose work at Chanel no doubt has Coco spinning in her grave. He has the skill and the talent to create something so much better, he just needs to take some time to realise his current work deserves all the criticism thrown its way, and actually work at creating something meaningful. Oh, and being polite may not be compulsory, but it certainly doesn't hurt.  

Saint Laurent
Autumn/Winter 2013

Saint Laurent
Spring/Summer 2014
(The collection that taught me what a moose knuckle was)

(originally posted on 4chan? - reference)



  1. I have honestly given up on this guy. Plenty of other fish to look at in the sea, thankfully. Too bad about the beautiful YSL of Pilatti's he's single-handedly destroyed.

  2. Gracia: I thought Laura Craik's open letter was quite indicative of the fashion world - "We like you, even though you treat us like a bitch." That statement made me give up on him.

    I'm hoping he can make something better, but I doubt he will.

  3. Not forgetting his original menswear for Saint Laurent (or, rather, Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche Pour Homme) in the late Nineties - which was incredible. Out of everyone who's tried to take on YSL - Elbaz, Ford, Pilati - those menswear collections came the closest (for me.)

    I'm interested in the idea that the new Saint Laurent is driven by a desire to demolish the city's relentlessly elegant haute couture tradition - replacing it with something noisy, and young, and careless. Without adding any actual value to what he is doing, it does highlight how strangely (and literally) old-fashioned much of the clothing presented in Paris has become. But I wonder why the label inside the clothes doesn't just say 'HEDI SLIMANE'.

  4. Loved Dior Homme, but I just can't and won't get into Saint Laurent. I don't like how it's a regurgitation of Dior Homme...not just the clothes, but the styling, the eerily similar locations and posing of the ads, but even the redesign of the stores and website. And overall I don't like the image. Those pictures from SS 2014 are gross to me, and sort of remind me of the one DH show that I refuse to acknowledge its existence.

    I did like his 1st women's collection though, especially some of the belts.

  5. JM: Agreed, I was actually thinking of posting his YSL work. But like P says, his SL work is so inescapably watered down DH it seemed more appropriate!

  6. I wonder what is like chubby boy wears this kind of skinny fashion.

  7. M: They can if they size up, but it's more dependent on body proportions than weight to be honest. Personally I'd recommend heftier guys to follow the Yohji route, it's far more forgiving (for us thinner guys too).

  8. I agree with you:) .I remember Yohji used ordinary hefty middle age and old guys for his new collection and those were so nice. Actually I love both style!