Opinion: Is Hedi Slimane Ushering In Fashion's Brave New World?

Jonathan Evans looks at the unsettling implications of the precedence that Hedi Slimane set at Saint Laurent.

BY JONATHAN EVANS | Apr 2, 2016 | Fashion


Saint Laurent's parent company Kering announced that, after months of rumours, creative director Hedi Slimane is leaving the storied French fashion house. Now begins the post-mortem.

Over at the Times, Vanessa Friedman posits that Slimane's legacy may not be the positive impact he had on Saint Laurent's business or even the clothes themselves, but his short tenure at the company. He did, after all, leave with only four years of professional service under his 28-inch belt. Throw him in the mix with designers like Raf Simons, who left Dior after three years, and Stefano Pilati, who departed from Zegna after a similarly abbreviated run, and you've got a dangerous precedent of star designers parting ways with major labels before the clothing-buying public has even had time to fully adjust to the new point of view.

According to Friedman, Kering's chief executive François-Henri Pinault shrugged off such concerns when she asked him about it in Milan this past season, telling her, "That is the normal life cycle of modern luxury." Maybe that is the reality of things now. And maybe it shouldn't be. But either way, contributing to fashion's ongoing game of musical chairs is definitely not Slimane's only legacy.

Here are at least two things that Slimane gave the fashion world over his four-year stint at Saint Laurent: the fetishisation of extreme thinness, and the radical reinvention of an established fashion label in the current creative director's own image. That the first is problematic should be so self-evident that we don't need to discuss it here, save to say that while a preoccupation with slim bodies is pervasive in the industry at large, Slimane's preferred aesthetic takes it to a whole new level.

The second issue is a little thornier. Saint Laurent is a hit right now, and that's because of Slimane. Creative directors routinely change the course of a brand to some degree, but Slimane's influence was total: He bent the entire company to his whim and creative vision. There were the clothes, of course: skinny rock-influenced pieces that were Slimane through and through. And there were the brand's stores around the world, which were totally reworked, right down to the furniture. Hell, the guy even pulled the "Yves" from "Yves Saint Laurent" to better reflect what he thought the fashion house should be. For four years, Saint Laurent and Slimane were so deeply interwound that they were essentially one and the same.

And it worked, from a business perspective. Last year, the brand pulled in over USD1 billion in sales revenue. From 2012 to 2014, revenues grew more than 20 percent each year, outpacing the rest of the luxury market. That Slimane's vision for Saint Laurent resonated with consumers is beyond contention, as is the brand's current success.

But what happens now that the man so synonymous with the brand is leaving? Slimane's vision of what menswear should represent has remained remarkably consistent over time; one needs only look back at his work for Dior Homme and compare it to Saint Laurent's current men's offerings to see that. But the brand he reinvigorated has undergone a seismic shift over the last four years, and to many new fans—and let's face it, most of the fans are new fans—Slimane's Saint Laurent is the only Saint Laurent. A new designer will surely step in and carry his torch, but it will be difficult. When a brand gives itself over to a single person so entirely, and that person leaves, what remains?

Slimane's next move remains to be seen. But it doesn't seem unlikely that, if he wanted to, he could step into another fashion house and do something very similar to what he did at YSL. Fashion is a business, after all—he'd simply have to point to Saint Laurent's numbers to justify complete creative control. And just like that, the brand's history would be moot. The vision would be his and his alone. Another designer of a similarly elevated stature could potentially do the same. If the precedent set at Saint Laurent gains traction, that could very well prove to be Slimane's most enduring legacy.

Let's hope it doesn't. A single person's vision matters, yes. But a fashion world where years or decades of tradition and context can be snuffed out so immediately and entirely sounds like a dark one indeed.

From: Esquire US.