exploring hedi slimane’s love affair with la through the ages

From West Coast art pioneers Billy Al Bengston and John Baldessari to Joni Mitchell’s Laurel Canyon 70s style, Hedi Slimane’s California cool isn’t just focused on the contemporary.

by Emily Manning
Feb 10 2016, 8:25pm

The GardenCherry GlazerrSWMRSGlimmerThe ParanoydsKim and the CreatedBleachedSlow Hollows.

It sounds like the Burger Records roster or a slice of the lineup at The Growlers' next Beach Goth festival, and that's exactly the point. Throughout his four year tenure at Saint Laurent, Hedi Slimane has mined Los Angeles' revived lo-fi music scene for its most exciting sounds and styles by being a fan first and foremost. He's often shooting in the pit at fests like Burgerama or venues like The Smell, letting his ears guide his eyes -- just as he did when he helmed Dior Homme during the mid-00s, when Brit rock bands inspired his runways.

Hedi's creative relationship with this new guard of native Cali kids is symbiotic: he not only casts punk pinups for the house's campaigns and his long-running personal photography project, but he also commissions original soundtracks for his shows (SWMRS' spring/summer 16 tune "Like Harry Dean Stanton" became the opening track of the band's just-released debut album Drive North). These young bands are fresh, raw, and best of all, real.

Tonight's celebration at legendary Los Angeles venue The Hollywood Palladium -- an art deco space christened by Frank Sinatra in 1940 -- will undoubtedly bring together an exciting lineup of LA's new and now. But Hedi's Californian chronicle isn't merely about capturing the contemporary; so much of his Surf Sound project is plugged into the region's past.

Slimane's debut womenswear collection for Saint Laurent-- spring/summer 13 -- was certainly steeped in the house's storied codes of Parisian cool: "Le Smoking, the mousselines, the pussy bows, the shot of animal spot," Tim Blanks noted in Vogue. But Slimane balanced his sharp suit tailoring with billowing frocks rendered in -- as the collection's muse, Stevie Nicks, once sang -- leather and lace. The iconic Fleetwood Mac frontwoman was a fitting first inspiration. Since she performed her first duet with Lindsey Buckingham -- a rendition of another legendary LA outfit, The Mamas and the Papas' "California Dreamin" -- at a house party during her senior year in high school, Nicks' signature style has evolved with SoCal. Feathered hair and translucent micro mesh front 1979's Rumours in true louche Laurel Canyon style. Teased bangs and fitted bejeweled bodices epitomize 1987's Tango in the Night, an album that arrived during the Sunset Strip's cocaine hey day. There are witchy, flowing sleeves, layered fringe, and so many top hats in between -- Hedi has revisited them all.

Though Nicks has yet to appear in a Saint Laurent campaign, her California countrywomen Joni Mitchell, Courtney Love, and Kim Gordon have. Mitchell is most synonymous with the aforementioned Laurel Canyon look; the hillside musical mecca was home to some of the 60s and 70s' most monumental sounds. Mitchell's 1970 album Ladies of the Canyon didn't just enshrine the poignant folk ethos she'd honed strumming on Lookout Mountain with David Crosby and Judy Collins, it cemented Joni's place as an eternally mythical American style icon. Rich knits, big Bohemian skirts, and layers of talismanic jewelry have found their place among Hedi's nods to 70s LA. Though their shredding sounds were bred north of LA -- predominantly in Washington State's 90s alternative scene -- Gordon and Love's grunge influence factors just as importantly in the creative director's encompassing musical vision. The fearless front women's slip and shift dresses, shiny tiaras (in Love's case), and chopped blonde mops have injected the house with a rebellious edge that feels all the more contemporary.

But Hedi's LA isn't merely steeped in the region's rich history of iconic women in music; his project is also very much concerned with the titans of West Coast visual art, spanning back to the 50s. His most recent outing drew set design inspiration from sculptor Larry Bell, a 77-year-old minimalist who still maintains an active studio in Venice. Fall/winter 14 womenswear saw a nod to prolific conceptual master John Baldessari in a series of glittery dresses rocked by Grace Hartzel and Edie Campbell. Spring/summer 16 menswear feted the work of 81-year-old painter and former professional motorcycle racer Billy Al Bengston, whose astral artworks are deeply connected to his early involvement in both surf and biking culture. Since the late 50s, Billy proved a central figure in the massively influential Ferus Gallery, the eccentric space that birthed many of the West Coast's most important art figures during its brief period of operation between 1957 and 1966.

Slimane's show this evening will not only present his newest mens and womenswear collections, it will celebrate 10 years of his photographic Diary. The event will no doubt feature performances and appearances by the same sun-kissed, peroxide blonde garage punks who've appeared in front of Slimane's lens. But in celebrating the project's decade and the city's here and now, he's simultaneously championing 50 years of LA's unique countercultural history. 


Text Emily Manning
Image via @ysl