hedi slimane leaves saint laurent
Following news today that Hedi Slimane is resigning after just three years at the helm of Saint Laurent, Anders Christian Madsen reflects on a brief but momentous era in fashion.
It's not an April Fools. After just seven seasons at the house he renamed, Hedi Slimane is leaving the Paris maison founded by Yves Saint Laurent in 1961. The news marks another new era for the brand, which went through radical changes under Slimane, who was initially criticised for departing with the Parisian chic of the Yves Saint Laurent legacy and replacing it with his own brand of indie cool. Rumours have been persistent that Anthony Vaccarello will replace Slimane, but they are yet to be confirmed by Saint Laurent owner Kering. We first got an inkling of change at Saint Laurent at the men's shows in January, when it was announced that the show would be held in Slimane's adopted hometown of Los Angeles, alongside the women's show.
The rumours followed an eventful 2015 in the fashion industry where John Galliano made his return at Maison Margiela, Alessandro Michele - at the time entirely unknown - took over at Gucci, Alexander Wang was replaced by Demna Gvasalia at Balenciaga, Raf Simons quit Dior, and Alber Elbaz was apparently let go from Lanvin. In a fashion industry in evolution - and, perhaps, revolution - the seven seasons Slimane lasted at Saint Laurent is perhaps something we have to get used to, regardless of how stark the contrast is to the old days when designers remained at the same houses for decades. Just look at Karl Lagerfeld, the last of his generation.
Nothing has illustrated the fashion times we live in like Slimane's tenure at Saint Laurent. Launched by an industry outcry when the designer announced his intentions to change the name of the brand from Yves Saint Laurent to Saint Laurent, his first year at the house went from one drama to the next. While critics pointed out elements respectful to the house's heritage in his first collection - women's spring/summer 13 - the mood was remarkably, irreverently L.A.: Slimane's adopted home town, which became the new base for the Saint Laurent ateliers. One critic, banned from the show, was less diplomatic in her review. Cathy Horyn slammed Slimane's collection on her New York Times blog, highlighting his favourable treatment of VIPs over industry members at the show.
The next day, in a rare move for a designer, Slimane made his very public retort on Twitter. "Miss Horyn is a schoolyard bully", he fumed. "An average writer", "her sense of style is seriously challenged", and "she will never get a seat at Saint Laurent but might get 2 for 1 at Dior," he wrote, hinting at Horyn's alleged favouritism of Raf Simons, without whom she once argued Slimane wouldn't exist. In the wake of the feud, others joined in. The Business of Fashion published a story entitled "A wake-up call for YSL's PR team" in which Imran Ahmed voiced his concerns over the controlling behaviour of Saint Laurent's new PR direction, and the fact that he wasn't invited to the show, either.
But Slimane wasn't about to give in to the pressure of the media. Throughout his residency at Saint Laurent, VIPs continued to fill the front rows of his shows - which eventually received much better reviews, not to mention a massive growth in sales - until it all culminated seven seasons on when he moved his men's show to L.A. without flying in much press. It seemed Slimane was flexing his post-modern muscle, showing the fashion industry what a circus it had become and that his platform wasn't meant for pleasing the press but instead, the consumer. Like it or not, his tenure at Saint Laurent painted a pretty precise portrait of the culture we live in where entertainment, celebrity, immediacy and instant gratification are religion—just look at social media.
Whether for better or for worse, Slimane changed the face of Yves Saint Laurent in those seven seasons - and shook up fashion doing it - and it cannot be said enough how impressive his makeover of the house over those four years was. Like he did it with the Dior Homme he invented before it, Slimane managed to produce garments everyone wanted to wear, whether you were Harry Styles, the local barman, or some boardroom power-dresser. And he gained the sky-high sales to prove it. For those of his critics, who may have eventually caved in to the covetability of his designs and bought themselves a pair of really good jeans, their hearts still beat for the maison Yves Saint Laurent called his House of Love.
With his swan song, a second instalment of his autumn/winter 16 collection shown at the Saint Laurent couture salons in Paris in March, he gave them just that: an intimate haute couture show, stripped of throbbing beats and front row cool kids where the impeccable craft of Slimane's work instead took centre stage. Now, as he becomes a free agent, the rumour mill will once again start spinning with whispers of his next move. Will he take on Dior womenswear, a post that's current unoccupied? Will he launch his own brand in the vein of Tom Ford? And what will happen to Saint Laurent? In an industry that's struggled to keep up with itself lately, perhaps good things come to those who just wait.
Text Anders Christian Madsen
Photography Collier Schorr
Fashion Director Alastair McKimm