Hedi Slimane: Fashion’s Sharpest Designer
By: Beverly Abellanosa
If you were to mention the name Hedi Slimane to a fashion enthusiast, they would most likely break into a passionate exaltation of his works. The French designer and photographer is beloved for the skinny menswear silhouette he popularized during his tenure at Dior Homme. On January 21, 2018, French fashion house Céline, announced that Slimane would take over as artistic, creative and image director, adding to his extensive resume as creative director at Dior (2000-2007) and Yves Saint Laurent (2012-2016).
Slimane’s name was further circulated in pop culture during his feud with rapper Kanye West in 2013 after Slimane allegedly told West he could only attend Yves Saint Laurent’s fashion show if he gave up his seat at other shows. West then wrote the song “I Am A God” in response to Slimane’s actions. Feuds aside, Slimane has become a formidable force in the fashion world through his “skinny” California grunge aesthetic. Although Hedi Slimane has become a household name as “fashion’s sharpest designer,” he initially had no plans of working in the industry.
“I’d like men to think about evolving into something more sophisticated, more seductive. To explore the possibility of an entirely new masculinity.”
– Hedi Slimane
Heidi Slimane was born on July 5, 1968, in the 19th arrondissement of Paris to a Tunisian father and an Italian mother. He first discovered photography at the age of eleven, when he received his first camera and learned black and white darkroom printing. At the age of sixteen, Slimane began to make clothing but never imagined becoming a fashion designer.
In his adolescent years, Slimane was often mocked for being “half a man” due to his naturally skinny build. He would turn to his music idols such as David Bowie, Mick Jagger, and Paul Weller for comfort as he was drawn to their style and aesthetic. His childhood experiences would later fuel his love for the skinny menswear silhouette he is now famous for. Slimane later studied art history at the École du Louvre and completed a tailor apprenticeship at a men’s designer house.
Slimane’s fashion career started when he worked as an assistant to fashion consultant Jean-Jacques Picard on the project “monogram canvas” for Louis Vuitton. The project invited seven fashion designers: Azzedine Alaia, Helmut Lang, Sybilla, Manolo Blahnik, Isaac Mizrahi, Romeo Gigli, and Vivienne Westwood to reinterpret the iconic monogram Louis Vuitton canvas in celebration of the brand’s 100 years of success.
In 1996, Slimane was appointed as director of ready-to-wear men’s collections by the co-founder of Yves Saint Laurent, Pierre Bergé. However, Slimane chose to leave the brand and turned down the offer of the creative director of Jil Sander to be the creative director of Dior Homme in 2001.
In June of that year, he launched the brand’s first male fragrance and worked with Richard Alvedon to advertise the scent. In the midst of his start as creative director of Dior Homme, Slimane moved to Berlin and took up a residency at the Kunst-Werke Institute for Contemporary Art. Slimane’s work at Dior redefined the male silhouette. In April 2002, Slimane became the first menswear designer to receive the CFDA award for International Designer. David Bowie, whom Slimane idolized and dressed for his tours, presented this award to him.
Slimane is partially credited with the increased profit of Dior’s couture business and although he had never designed a womenswear collection, he dressed female celebrities such as Madonna and Nicole Kidman during his time at Dior. Slimane was also designed stage wear for artists such as Daft Punk, Franz Ferdinand, The Libertines, The Kills, Mick Jagger, Beck and Jack White. Additionally, while at Dior, he commissioned various artists such as Beck and Razorlight to create original soundtracks for his fashion shows.
In July 2007, Slimane did not renew his contract at Dior and returned to photography to remain in control of his name and the management of his own brand. He left for the United States and based himself in Los Angeles, which would significantly influence his photography.
In 2011, Slimane showcased a photographic installation of an archive of his images from his time in California at the Museum of Contemporary Art. Later that year, following John Galliano’s dismissal from Dior, there was talk about Slimane becoming creative director. However, the following year, he became the creative director of Yves Saint Laurent, basing his headquarters in Los Angeles instead of Paris. He would later be succeeded by Anthony Vaccarello in 2016.
There are only a handful of careers that have been as closely monitored and extensively discussed as Slimane’s. Hedi Slimane has changed the way brands are conceived by engaging in the commercial aspect of the business while also communicating with younger consumers online. Slimane’s mysterious nature has rendered him a favorite of fashion enthusiasts worldwide.
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