an interview with hedi slimane from the livin' loud issue 2011
Last night Hedi Slimane sent a brigade of grunge soaked Sixties mods down the Saint Laurent runway. With Alex Turner and Miles Kane sitting front row like the indie-kids of Hedi's dreams, leggy girls stalked nonchalantly past them in black babydoll...
In 2011 we interviewed Hedi about new youth and California Dreaming and peeked inside his diary to find the Arctic Monkeys, Kate Moss, Pete Doherty and the other street-cast boys that constantly stalked through his mind in black and white. His dissection of new youth seems just as relevant today, see for yourself...
Although he never stops working, February 2011 marks a particularly busy period for Hedi Slimane, with two simultaneous exhibitions and an anthology project, published by JRP | Ringier. The first exhibition, California Dreamin - Myths and Legends of Los Angeles at Almine Rech Gallery, Paris, features artists John Baldessari, Ed Ruscha, Raymond Pettibon, Sterling Ruby, Jim Shaw, Chris Burden, Aaron Curry, John McCracken, Mark Grotjahn, Bruce Conner, Patrick Hill, Dennis Hopper, Joel Morrison, Mike Kelley and Aaron Young curated by Slimane, exploring the dark, artistic topography of Los Angeles, the city he now calls home. "There is obviously a strong history in contemporary art, since the days of the Ferus Gallery in the 50s," Hedi explains. "We decided to explore 'historical' figures, very well represented in the show, such as Ruscha, Baldessari, McCracken, juxtaposed with a younger scene -
Aaron Curry or Aaron Young, Sterling Ruby."
At the Almine Rech Gallery in Brussels, Slimane presents Fragments Americana, a show regarding his "last cycle of photographs, mostly around the representation of California, as a pendant to the Paris show." Strictly photographic, with traditional silver gelatin prints, the images continue the creative's idea of allusive portraiture and signs.
Then there's the archives book of course; Anthology of a Decade, which focuses on emerging acts and individuals, through music and street casting - Slimane's fundamentals of what is about to happen, in an organic way. The idea is to put a generation in perspective, a scene and energy that emerged and defined the vibration of the past decade.
Attentive to different cycles, including Berlin (1999-2003) and the late USA cycle (mostly California 2007-present), presented here is Hedi's London/Paris portfolio, which through his fashion and photography he gave a voice to over the past ten years, merging and introducing the culture to a broader audience in his years at Dior Homme - street casting fans or musicians for his shows, discovering emerging bands, commissioning soundtracks - or through Slimane's Rock Diary. i-D asked Hedi for his thoughts.
What made you feel now was the right time to compile Anthology of a Decade?
It's never the moment really to be looking at the past, for me at least - I might be too sentimental for it - but I somehow needed to put all this behind me. Although I just sum up those years [the 00s] and have to deal with an archive I cannot even handle myself, boxes full of negatives, which have to be digitalised, dating from the mid 80s. The anthology is an edit, focused on the last decade. It's a strange thing for me to put things on record, somehow, as I usually disconnect from the past, or feel a little saddened by it. [Anthology of a Decade] happens to be about debutants, anything emerging, unaffected or damaged, from Berlin, to London, Paris, or Los Angeles, starting in 1999 until today.
Going through old albums or archives is an emotional experience. Did the process bring back memories?
Yes, it did really. Not the years, but the characters I got emotionally attached to, which I desperately tried to preserve through photography. I am happy to have all this now, and keep it very preciously, mostly for memories other than my own. I assume, at a young age, the idea of representation, documentation, memory is not an issue - it's all in the making of music, living the moment, in the most restless manner. I was always concerned with the fragility and vulnerability of it all, at least from, maybe, age fifteen; a camera in my hand, taking pictures of my friends.The pictures, books, all my archives are there for the subjects of the photograph only, as a reminder of their grace and vibrant youth.
You started taking pictures as an adolescent, before you touched clothes, of course. Did you always have such an evocative viewpoint and fascination with geometry?
I started photography during school at the age of eleven,with technique and darkroom evening classes. I loved my teacher which helped keep my focus, looking forward to refuge in the lab whenever I did not have class.We could use the darkroom to process our photographs at any time. Fashion came late, although I have more memories of fabric suppliers as a kid, than kindergarten. My mother was, by family tradition, a really good seamstress. As for the viewpoint in photography or fashion (which was always, for me, the consequence of my interest in photography), the 'feel' has stayed the same. Geometry came at fifteen, I was influenced strongly and offered a book about Alexander Rodchenko and the avant-garde for my birthday. For years, until the early 90s I guess, I was experimenting with frames, obliques, or depth of field. Later I was quite influenced by Caspar David Friedrich and the sense of scale between the subject and the frame around him, monumental nature. I remember being a kid, around six or seven, bored to death on Wednesday afternoons, when not in class. I would play with cards on the floor and lay them out in geometries and psycho-rigid alignments, in repetitive manner, for hours.
On a different note, in France we have a tradition, expressed in architecture - inspired by the classics obviously - which is called ordonnance. L'ordonnance, and symmetry, at its best in the French XVII or XVIIIs, ended up the idea of French style itself. Geometry and stiffness one can see transposed in the tradition of French couture, and ateliers. From changing the organic shapes of nature to create les jardins à la Française, as opposed to British naturalism, to impeccable alignment of our architectural facades, it is, by nature, in our culture. I guess it had a strong influence on me, growing up and loving French history. Until I jumped to modernism, which somehow remains a transferral of classic, reduced principles. I was always interested in the idea of vitesse, which is not really speed and not really motion, but the representation, or at least the attempt to represent motion in life without jumping all the way to film (multiple frames per second).The idea of a still in motion, an archaism of movement and life.
How did Los Angeles make its impact on you?
Technically, I was in LA when I decided to quit Dior, and put design in perspective for some time. I always thought I would love one day to put things on hold and move there, tightening things around me. I finally did it. I just feel home strangely. It is quite healing for me, it's hard to explain. I really moved in 2010, although I don't spend enough time there, unfortunately. It has a strong influence on me.
GEORGE BARNETT was photographed with his twin brother Jack by Hedi Slimane in November 2006, as part of an emerging band called These New Puritans. During this encounter George talked with Slimane about his passion for tailoring and one month later found himself interning at Hedi's Paris studio, progressing to walk in the Dior Homme autumn/winter 07 show and, with the rest of TNPs, soundtrack the collection. George, Jack and Thomas Hein, together with Sophie Sleigh-Johnson created Navigate, Navigate; a clattering, spiky fifteen minute wonder that has the purest key change two thirds of the way through. Like out of body ascension it touches the hedonistic spirit of Slimane's vital world.Today Barnett is an established model, walking in every major menswear show since, with two acclaimed albums under his belt - the latter, the ambitious, anxious and orchestral Hidden, voted NME's best record of 2010. Barnett is the encapsulation of Slimane's later 00s thoughts, character and style.
"I first met Hedi in East London, in a pub called The Griffin. He was taking some photos of TNPs [These New Puritans] - I don't remember much about the shoot, I just remember having a good conversation with him, whom I knew little about. Hedi works like he is mentally bringing lots of different worlds and ideas/aesthetics together, they're all reflecting off each other, like he's got a hall of mirrors inside his head. I admire the something-from-nothing aspect of what he does. He took a big risk on us, he saw something new. [Hedi Slimane at Dior Homme] was a really formative time personally for me - I learnt not to compromise, take big risks and just peruse, creating the most beautiful stuff I can create. I got an overview of the whole process as Hedi's assistant, I used to sit with a woman called Annie in the atelier a lot and sew for ages, learning about all these very intricate techniques and patterns that made the garment but were virtually invisible to the uninformed. The future? I still draw/sew a lot, but my main creative focus is TNPs... not to say you won't see more design from me... right now I want to make a film/motorbike and of course clothes but I'm sure lots of people do."
JÉROME LECHEVALIER is the first quintessential model of Hedi Slimane, street cast whilst he was working on line-ups for French designer José Lévy. Slimane was scouting non-professional models since the beginning of the 90s; Lechavalier a punk since the age of fifteen, hair bleached and spiky in a leather jacket or 60s suit. "I imagined myself in Breathless projected into the world of Ranxerox, the science fiction graphic novel," he says of his identity. "I tried to put together a few groups, I played bass. I was going to every garage punk and hardcore concert there was; Johnny Thunders, Generation X, GBH,The Cramps,The Damned, Bad Brains, Circle Jerks, Dead Kennedys." Lechevalier, through Slimane, found himself at the forefront of a changing system in fashion, totally representative of a new body morphology. Since exiting from fashion, Lechevalier has made short films and video clips, translated author Eddie Little's unpublished short stories and directed a short reportage about The Damned. He is currently writing a noir fiction (hardboiled style) and making a documentary about the provocative Italian director Lina Wertmüller.
"I have vivid memories of the first time I met Hedi Slimane. It was November or December 92, I was just 20. I was rather quiet that day. I was wearing a suit with my army boots. I had just found a job at the Kodak factory/laboratory, which is why I had brown hair again. I was on a bus, it was 7 or 8pm and I was reading a book when this young guy, Hedi, came to talk to me. He apologised for watching me for some time - I hadn't noticed - and introduced himself. He left me a telephone number and asked me to call back for a fashion show. It was late, he was going to the theatre, Châtelet maybe. I had been approached for shooting and fashion shows but I always refused. I had even reacted violently. But Hedi wasn't arrogant, and José Lévy's studio for which he was casting was in my neighbourhood, the 13th arrondissement. So I went there, I was curious. I think the first time we talked about movies, the nouvelle vague.
I was never interested in the fashion world before, I discovered this universe as I was doing the job. When I started, male models were strapping men, kind of Californian surfers, and very classical. From my first photoshoot, the stylists had to use tons of pins to pinch the jackets and pants, making them into the shape I was.
My first show for José Lévy, was something like January 1993. That Sunday, I woke up late, still drunk from the day before and with a black eye. I jumped into a taxi and it had to stop while crossing the Seine for me to vomit on the Pont du Carrousel. I arrived a bit sorry, but I was reassured and given eye make- up. I remember especially the second show, six months later. It was at the Luxembourg Palace, the seat of the French Senate. I was delighted to wander the corridors of the Republic with the desire of doing shit, but I behaved well. The job was to walk, so I did. And like everybody I walked through my first year, it was no more difficult than that.
Then Hedi was working with a modelling agency, Partner's. They called me. It was a women's agency and I was their first male model. I was booked for women's shows that September: Martine Sitbon, Corinne Cobson, Jean Paul Gaultier. What's funny is that this season I walked the catwalk several times in my own leather pants with my old Doc Martens, just wearing a T-shirt or a shirt from the designer. At first I was always associated with women, walking in practically all the shows in Paris, Milan, London and Tokyo - as well as some in New York, women's and men's. In my Parisian punk scene I was always very discreet about this activity [my modelling]. At that time in Paris only people involved in the fashion world knew.This wasn't the case in London, where everybody knew the models; from the old lady in the café to the punk around the corner.
Years later, after running away from this world, I passed a poster in the street, the advertising campaign for Dior Homme by Hedi Slimane. Looking at the shape, it was the kind of clothing I would have liked to have worn when I was working as a model - you didn't need any pins to pinch anything. It was a bit like a mirror, I could recognise something."
ALEX NEEDHAM is former deputy editor at NME and has worked for The Face and Smash Hits. For three years he was a part of Hedi Slimane's Rock Diary project and is currently acting arts editor at The Guardian.
"In September 2004 I was deputy editor of NME. Hedi's office sent a copy of his book Stage into the office and since he obviously loved most of the bands we covered I thought it might be fun to invite him to a gig.The picture editor Marian Paterson and I met up with him one Friday night and went to see The Rakes, The Others and The Paddingtons - all unsigned at the time - at the George Tavern, then Babyshambles at the Rhythm Factory. I remember they gave a particularly exuberant performance as Pete Doherty had just been acquitted on a weapons charge. Hedi absolutely loved it all. In fact we had so much fun that we went out with him the following night as well - Babyshambles again at the Frog club at the LA2. The pictures Hedi took on both nights formed an art project at the Almine Rech Gallery in Paris, and then the first installment of Rock Diary. Hedi had wanted to start a rock-themed project with V magazine so he asked me to write some words that would go with his pictures.The first one ran in the Spring 2005 issue of V (Pete Doherty), and the last was in Spring 2008 (Late of the Pier). We covered about 25 bands in all. We've done some articles together since, like Disconcerts for Hedi's website and The Big Pink, ROMANCE, S.C.U.M and O Children for V Man.
I always have a soft spot for the ones who never get anywhere at all. Blondelle were rather fab and I liked Cazals a lot as well. Phil [Bush] has a wonderfully elegant rock star demeanour. Hedi sat him next to Mick Jagger at the spring/summer 07 show and Phil outglammed Mick by far.The Others were fascinating, and actually I think Dominic Masters was really ahead of his time in making himself so available to his fans. He did social networking before it existed. My most vivid memories will always be of Babyshambles gigs though; at the time Pete Doherty was the culmination and focal point of everything else.
I used to enjoy the way that Hedi would get right into the moshpit (or preferably on the stage) - he had a very journalistic way of making sure he was in situ to get the right image, and he wasn't scared of getting involved. In fact he welcomed it. Sometimes we'd happen to stumble over great things, we saw some good bands at the Underage nights they used to put on at ULU. Arctic Monkeys played an amazing gig early on in a very soulless venue, the Carling Academy in Islington. I also really enjoyed going to the Dior Homme shows in Paris at the time, particularly the spring/summer 06 show where loads of young fans from the Whitechapel scene were brought over and The Rakes did the music. Phil from Cazals was modelling and The Others were in the front row. It was Hedi's birthday party later that night, held in a properly grimy rock venue called Le Triptique in Paris. When Pete Doherty, Hedi and Kate Moss walked in it was a show-stopping moment. Babyshambles played, and Pete sang happy birthday to Hedi in the style of Marilyn Monroe singing to JFK. Then things got extremely messy - especially when the toilets flooded. I think Hedi's got an equally passionate enjoyment of grit and glamour. He likes things that are incredibly posh, and things that are super-scruffy, and he enjoys mixing them together. Like that party, which had both Karl Lagerfeld and Dominic Masters on the guest list, Alan McGee DJing and everyone drinking champagne. Ultimately everything he creates is the product of a very specific aesthetic which is able to make sense of things which seem quite diffuse. He loves high fashion, pop music and street fashion so they inform his work, but he Hedifies them - there's an alchemical process that turns them into something else.
He's hyper-aware of what is relevant to his own aesthetic, and often he can see things in people that others can't see. No other fashion designers were particularly interested in young bands when he started photographing them, and they certainly weren't hanging out at the Rhythm Factory to check them out. Some of the groups he loved the most were too ramshackle even for NME, like The Paddingtons and Littl'ans for instance, but Hedi thought they were beautiful and his pictures of them revealed that beauty. As for the 'next' thing, Hedi's always been interested in what the kids are into, but in a participatory way rather than trying to rip it off. He was always the person in the thick of the moshpit and the one who'd be buzzing the most afterwards. 'Next' also implies that he's a dilettante who moves on after a couple of seasons, but in fact he's unshakeably committed to the things that he's into in a way that's deeper than fashion. I suppose what I'm trying to say is that ultimately, Hedi is a diehard fan."
Text Dean Mayo Davies
Photography Hedi Studio
Artwork Dani Tull
[The Livin' Loud Issue, No. 311, Pre-Spring 2011]