Thoughts on Hedi Slimane

Hedi 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, Slimane's not really a likeable guy – lest I come across as biased, 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 (or, depending on context, Saint Laurent Paris or Saint Laurent by Hedi Slimane).

It wasn't just the logo that changed, though, as the YSL woman was transformed too – in fact, she became much less of a woman and more of a teenage girl. The thing is, most luxury 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 young fashion fans who source most of their labelled goods from eBay et al. 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 these mainline, £1000+ clothes are diffusion line product. Saint Laurent's SS13 collection was little more than an artful culmination of bargain bin scraps from Lipsy, River Island and a fancy dress shop. A lot of the clothes resembled things you might 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 Simons' 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 people bash Slimane, however, for 'ruining YSL', that is logical. Before the big rebrand, 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, skeletal girls. YSL's existing clientele aren't the only demographic Hedi seems to at pains to alienate – journalists are blacklisted from Saint Laurent's runway shows if they dare show any reluctance to bow down at Slimane's throne. And the select few runway critics who are on the guestlist (albeit no longer allowed to write anything critical) have been pushed off their front row seats to make room for the Slimane's motley crew of celebrity fans.  

So, there's a lot to drag about Hedi Slimane, his pretentiousness alone holding up its own red flag. There's also the question of how long he can peddle his distinctly grungy, 'I'm with the band look' before the concept becomes even more tired than it already is. However, even in the creative industries, it's the turnover that really counts. And, unfortunately for the haters, Saint Laurent sells well. The thing is, although a lot of Slimane's stuff looks like it belongs in Topshop, about 50% of my wardrobe is from Topshop. The fact that one can imagine someone wearing one of his dresses to a Koosday event, even though they're more likely to be worn to a black tie gala, isn't exactly a bad thing; although he seems like the most arrogant personality in an industry full of arrogance, you could never accuse Slimane's designs of being pretentious. Perhaps he's just trying to be the good guy after all, finding his success through making our existing wardrobes look covetable. Or perhaps he's just trying to fuck with us. Either way, he's the one laughing all the way to the bank.

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.