Thoughts on Hedi Slimane

Something I never thought I'd find myself saying: I'm really feeling Saint Laurent's AW14 looks. Instead of just discussing the collection nearly a whole season too late, I thought I'd take a broader (and, admittedly, overdue) look at Hedi Slimane and his rebranding of YSL. 

Slimane is that arsey, apathetic guy in your secondary school maths class who slouched at the back of the classroom and took the piss out of anyone whose cheekbones weren't as sharp as his (read: everyone). In short, he's not really a likeable guy, and there are hundreds of articles online that corroborate this. Since taking the reins at YSL in 2011, Slimane has completely rebranded the iconic fashion house. Although this news still doesn't sit well with the more obstinate of the brand's die-hards, the rebranding has been a commercial success for the brand we now know as Saint Laurent (also known, in some formats, as Saint Laurent Paris and Saint Laurent by Hedi Slimane, but the rules about which name to use in different situations are too finely-cut for me to explain). 

It wasn't just the logo that changed, though, as the YSL woman was transformed too – in fact, she became a teenage girl. Some of the big fashion brands, although gawped at by women under 40 on computer screens worldwide, thrive on designing clothes for an older clientele. It sort of makes sense, because the average 25-year-old's salary couldn't dream of accommodating the cost of a Chanel dress, but it consequently alienates a good chunk of the young fashion fans who find most of their labelled goods on eBay. Designer diffusion lines aren't the perfect solution, but they're a reasonable middle ground, providing a high fashion fix – usually with a younger aesthetic as well as a lower price – for rich kids and 20-somethings who are beginning to find their feet financially. Since Slimane started ripping Saint Laurent's 'exclusive' nature to shreds, you would be forgiven for thinking that the mainline clothes are diffusion line clothes. I maintain that his SS13 was simply an artful culmination of scraps from bargain bins in Lipsy, River Island and a fancy dress shop; a lot of the clothes looked like things you see misguided drunk girls wearing in Tiger Tiger, and overall it was very poor form from Slimane.
A lot of people booted off about Raf Simons when he started out at Dior. Being a massive fan of his work, I never understood it. When fashion critics bashed Simons for 'ruining Dior', all he was really doing was stepping back from Galliano's garishness (which, personally, I always hated, but I'm in the minority). When they bashed Slimane, however, for 'ruining YSL', it really did seem like he was ruining the brand. Before the rebranding, YSL catered for moneyed and elegant women, so it was difficult to see how these sophisticated ladies would be able to digest these tacky new pieces draped over doe-eyed, skinny-skinny girls. It wasn't just the existing clientele who Hedi alienated; it would seem that journalists are blacklisted by Saint Laurent (i.e. not allowed to the shows) if they show any inclination to not bow down at Slimane's throne, and runway critics, even if no longer allowed to write anything critical, have been pushed off their front row seats to make room for the designer's celebrity clique. 

Pretentious and stubborn he may be – and there's also the question of how long he can peddle his distinct, grungy 'I'm with the band' look before the concept becomes even more tired than it already is – but, even in the creative industries, it's the turnover that really counts. And Saint Laurent sells well. Although a lot of Slimane's stuff looks like it belongs in Topshop, about 50% of my wardrobe is from Topshop. And the fact that I can imagine someone wearing one of his dresses to a Koosday night, even though they're more likely to be worn to a black tie event, isn't exactly a bad thing; although he seems like the most arrogant personality in an industry full of arrogance, you could never accuse his designs of being pretentious. 
For further reading, I'd highly recommend this article by Cathy Horyn, in which she considers why Slimane, by offering clothes that are commercial rather than conceptual, might have had the right idea all along.



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