The Rebel Slimane

When it comes to the harsh criticism on Hedi Slimane’s Saint Laurent oeuvre, one could wonder if it isn’t history repeating itself. His take on the YSL aesthetic as its creative director, has often been labeled ‘pulled from the street’ and many accusations have been thrown at the designer for ‘gutting the house’s legacy’. But are Slimane and Yves Saint Laurent far apart from one and other when it comes to their vision for the house -and is Slimane’s take on YSL really ‘gutting’ the house’s legacy?

Saint Laurent VS. Hedi Slimane

There is much evidence to prove that Slimane is the right man to head Saint Laurent. A brief look at the history of YSL shows that the designers have a lot in common. Both men have had a career at Dior, and both introduced new silhouettes there — YSL, the female tuxedo, and Slimane the slim silhouette for men– silhouettes that have taken off within the fashion industry ever since. And rumour has it that Karl Lagerfeld had to lose about 90 pounds, just so he could fit into one of Slimane’s esteemed suits. Saint Laurent became head designer of of Dior at age 21. His spring 1958 collection, featuring the ‘trapeze dress’ saved the enterprise from financial ruin. Slimane accepted the position of creative director at Dior Homme in 2000, causing Dior’s couture business- which includes ready-to-wear and accessories- to increase volume and profit by 41 percent in 2002.

While Slimane get’s his fair share of media-slaughter season after season, Yves Saint Laurent received a blaze of harsh criticism when he debuted his controversial 1971 ‘Libération’- one that would be remembered as his ‘Scandal collection’, named after the (media) scandal it caused. “He spared us nothing. His collection was a tour de force of bad taste. Good taste may be considered ghastly, but nothing could exceed the horror of this exercise in kitsch”– a 1971 review in the Guardian read. That particular show made people uncomfortable for a number of reasons – for one it was the 40s inspired garments that reminded of wartime occupation, the latter being the source of inspiration of the collection. But it was also the ready-to-wear, street feeling of the couture, seemingly assembled from flea-market finds, that didn’t sit well at all with industry insiders and the media. And this wasn’t the first YSL move that had shocked the public (nor would it be the last) – back in his Dior days, he’d undergone harsh criticism for a 1960 beatnik-themed couture collection, his first attempts to bring what he saw on the street into the high-minded decadent fold of couture- this would become the collection that parted his ways with Dior.

What defines a designer garment?

The continuous harsh criticism on Hedi Slimane about his Saint Laurent oeuvre also opens the debate on what luxury is and what makes a garment ‘designer’. Is it decadence and tradition, like the House of Chanel or artistic grandeur of the likes of McQueen and Galliano? Perhaps our judgment on what makes an item ‘luxury’ is clouded. Slimane is a designer that is connected with the soul of the zeitgeist- like Saint Laurent was during his time- he knows what is happening outside the high-minded world of Parisian couture- what is boiling among youth and what is ‘hot and happening’ in those smokey underground rock clubs around the world. In that- both men have a shared vision of democratising fashion, having influenced it with their inventions, breaking boundaries in couture and changing our attitude towards (luxury) clothing. This discredits the allegations that Slimane is gutting the YSL legacy, where he seems to be carrying it forward.

And one may criticise Slimane’s take on the Saint Laurent aesthetic as “pulled from the street”- and if one was to view the garments via a smart phone or a computer –it could easily be mistaken for it. But it is when the garments are viewed up close that one notices the fine details and exquisite fabrics, the excellence tailoring and artisanship by the hands of Hedi Slimane, that goes in to each and one of his sultry rugged creations. After all, isn’t that what separates designer from street?