Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Waiting for Hedi Slimane (English version)

That day in march 2007
Hedi’s legacy
Fans galore
Fashion without Slimane
Hedi in the art world
So what’s next?


That day in march 2007
Wherever I go with Jean François Lautard, a 27-year-old fashion professional I befriended a few years ago, girls and boys alike ask me the same question: “…mmm… is he single?”Well, no wonder. Jean François’ pulchritude can hardly be denied: he boasts a childish face and stylish allure.

A dedicated follower of fashion with a strong penchant for Hedi Slimane’s clothes, Lautard does indeed embody a certain type of modern urban man, hovering at the elusive junction between coquettish and négligé, feminine and masculine, formal and sporty, bourgeois and rocker.
Even more remarkable than his looks are his phone conversations, during which he shares passionate and lucid insights on fashion - interspersed with narrations of his trysts with hip Parisian girls (yes, he is straight, and, by the way, not longer single).

But on March 29, 2007, his early morning phone call had a rather somber tone. “I don’t know what to say… I’m lost…”, he uttered dismally. This was his reaction to the news that had just been distributed over the wires, transmitted from fashionista to fashionista, and debated on fashion forums. An event the fashion industry had been dreading for a year, but somehow didn’t believe could happen. But it had: Hedi Slimane was leaving Dior Homme.

Lautard was not alone in his bewilderment on that now-famous March day. Murphy Tansipek, a 35–year-old architect from Manilla, felt “disappointed” after reading about the news online. Kenzo King, an 18-year-old fashion student from London, was “totally outraged that such a motivator had decided to walk away from his creation”. Amaury Mkey, a French student, was at school in Paris, when the news appeared on his Blackberry. He couldn’t believe it. John Tan, a New York-based fashion stylist, was equally shocked. Actually, most people who had an inkling of what Slimane stood for in menswear were stunned.

“It was the end of an era”, Lautard reminisced last April over drinks in his ascetically-furnished, Slimanesque Paris apartment. “With his departure, people lost their references, and the only real menswear designer… OK, I don’t mean to exaggerate… but he was a pillar”.

It has now been a year since this powerful French designer left the august house of Dior, following disagreements with LVMH (Dior’s parent company) over the launch of a Hedi Slimane brand, which would have included womenswear. Since then, Kris Van Assche, a former Slimane assistant from Belgium, has already presented two collections under the Dior Homme label, to lukewarm reviews. Slimane himself has not remained idle: he traveled to the United States, exhibited his photographic work in European capitals, and sporadically shot spreads for glossy fashion magazines. He also keeps a photo diary on his website. He even gave interviews that hinted at an imminent return to fashion. But none of these activities seem to have quenched the fiery debate caused by last year’s departure from Dior. In private conversations and online fashion forums, people still discuss Slimane’s future, and, for that matter, fashion’s future. But what real consequences did this high-profile divorce have on his fans, and the whole fashion industry?

Rest of the article

Hedi’s legacy
To many, the fact that people reacted so viscerally to a changing of guard at a fashion house might seem like a severe case of drama queens in overdrive. Sure, as Gert Jonkers, the editor in chief of the cult men’s magazines Fantastic Man and Butt stated, “Fashion is a world of drama, and Hedi’s departure from Dior is the kind of drama that makes the fashion world go round”.

Yet, this was no ordinary drama. Dior had let go a man who was rare by any standard: the breadth of his vision, his protean quality, the exceptional fit of his clothes and the cultural phenomenon he sparked off. “Thanks to him, a whole new generation of guys are looking elegant on the streets of Paris’”, said Liana Soulie, a model booker whose agency, Success, often collaborated with Slimane. She was surely alluding to the razor-sharp tailoring, slim jeans, tuxedo looks, and rocker styles that have become wardrobe lynchpins for fashion-savvy blokes like Lautard, but also hordes of boys-next-door.

If Slimane’s style was ubiquitous, it might just be because he himself was ubiquitous. Besides the Dior collections, this notorious stickler for perfection would design the stores, cast his models in the street – an activity he dubbed “boy safari” -, shoot advertising campaigns, oversee the launch of fragrance and beauty products, stage art installations, take pictures of rock bands, and I’m sure, even choose the paper that went into the photocopy machine in his office. And everything he touched turned into gold, leaving an indelible sheen on his era.

“He invented a whole creative universe. It was a sort of global utopia, like in the Bauhaus era, when people wanted to change the world”, said Almine Rech,owner of the prestigious namesake Paris gallery where Slimane exhibits his artwork. “For me, Slimane “heteroized” fashion”, opined Lautard, who owns about 20 Dior Homme pieces. “With his clothes, you were unquestionably a man. He created a lust for the label with wearable catwalk pieces”. Then he added, “The idea behind them was wearable”.

This idea, Hedi’s idea, was a smart, and clear one. He understood that tailoring excellence and street creed made for a tasty fashion cocktail. The ingredient Slimane used to give this recipe that unique flavor was a highly-eroticized take on the skinny body. He sprinkled it all with rock music and nightlife references. Then the whole thing exploded.

Fans galore
While interviewing Slimane fans for this story, I was surprised to notice that many of them were drawn to his clothes, not through publicity, runway coverage or marketing baits, but by the clothes themselves. Many discovered them while shopping, like Tansipek, the Manilla architect, who first saw them on trips to Shanghai and Hong Kong. The designer Gilles Dufour, who was Karl Lagerfeld’s right-hand at Chanel for 15 years, remembers spotting a magnificent velvet jacket in the shop window of the Yves Saint Laurent boutique in the nineties. ”It was so well cut that I bought two of them. I even showed them to Karl, who liked them too”. At the time, he had never heard of Slimane, had no clue he was the menswear designer for Saint Laurent (from 1996 to 1999), and surely couldn’t foresee his forthcoming reign at Dior from 2000 to 2007.

Some fans were profoundly marked by Slimane. Take Dean Charbal. This 32-year-old French computer science consultant, who qualifies himself as a boy-next-door, discovered Slimane by pure fluke. “I got this new job last year, so I needed some suits. Being very, very skinny, (1,72 m, 50 kilos), I’ve always had trouble finding clothes that suited me”. So one afternoon, he ambled from store to store, pleased at times, but ultimately unable to find that prefect suit. Almost mechanically, he entered the Dior Homme store on rue Royale and saw a coat. He stood there for a while, transfixed. “It was so small. I just couldn’t take my eyes off it”, he said.From then on, Charbal went into overdrive. “I was in a frenzy, he said. In just three months, I spent a humongous amount of money there. About 6000Euros. My friends were stunned by my extravagance. But Dior Homme gave me confidence”. He then started doing a lot of online research on Slimane, but he soon discovered that the designer and the prestigious house had just parted ways.

Needless to say, Chabal is one of a new generation of men and women who now feel the frustration a child would experience if you abruptly pulled his pacifier out of his mouth. As a consequence, a strong pro-Slimane movement has arisen on the Internet. On Facebook.com, the popular networking site, one can find 13 Slimane support groups, some with eloquent titles like “Cause me pain Hedi Slimane” or ”Come back Hedi Slimane”. All these groups have around 2700 members. And they aren’t necessarily fashion professionals. Just people who, like Charbal, Tansipek, or Mkey, dig his work.

Slimane has 1926 friends on his official Myspace page, and his own website, hedislimane.com, claims 2 million visitors a year according to a spokeswoman.

But on fashion forums and private conversations alike, Slimane also has foes, ones who complain about his excessively skinny models and who accuse him of having copied Raf Simons. Whatever one’s camp, Slimane certainly leaves no one indifferent.

Fashion without Slimane
The departure of Hedi Slimane was a real problem, precisely because he was a problem-solving designer. As Charbal’s fable reveals, he designed clothes that held their promise: to give men, especially slim men, a unique allure. Now these guys had to consider alternatives.

“At the beginning, I thought I might go to a bespoke tailor, but I found nice clothes at Lanvin (designed by Lucas Ossendrijver, a former Slimane assistant). I also like Raf Simons, Rick Owens and Thom Browne.“ Most Slimane fans cited roughly the same modernist designers among their favorites, along with Christopher Baily at Burberry. As for Charbal, he says he still hasn’t found a designer to replace Slimane.

“People sure miss Hedi, he was so important”, said Sarah Lerfel the buyer for the hip Parisian boutique Colette. “But we have enough alternatives not to feel the economic weight of his absence”. In her store, she noticed that many former Dior customers now found solace with Simons, Browne, and also the new Dior Homme outfits by Kris Van Assche. And she didn’t see any particular surge for the fall 2007 Dior homme collection, which was Slimane’s last. “You know, only a specific clientele - mostly addicts or fashion professionals - really cares about the idea of a last collection. Most people just see the Dior label, which is still alive”.

Slimane’s absence can also be felt during Paris men’s fashion week, which almost always closed with his must-attend, spectacular shows. The city still has exceptional designers like Raf Simons, Bernhard Willhelm or John Galliano, but one feels a certain void. “There were good shows last January, said John Tan, a fashion stylist who notably works for V, but the excitement that should have been there, wasn’t there.” The French fashion ruling body declined to be interviewed for this story, yet a spokesman stated that attendance at the men’s shows has been constantly evolving for years.

Hedi in the art world
While awaiting Hedi’s hypothetical return, his fans and the fashion press have followed his artistic adventures. He has shown his black and white photographs, which document the rock scene, in several exhibitions. On May 19, the Musac, Barcelona’s contemporary art museum, will exhibit the pictures he took at last year’s Benicassim rock festival.

But as Almine Reich recounted, people’s reactions to Slimane’s art has been quite. “extreme”. “Some people loved it, others pooh-poohed it by saying: he is not a real artist. Those negative comments mostly came from French people or people who do not live in big cities,” she said. Someone even told me, “If he wasn’t Hedi Slimane, he surely wouldn’t get all this attention and those prestigious galleries”.

Yet, Reich insists it was the quality of his artwork that caught her attention. She remembers first meeting Slimane around 2000. ” We had mutual friends,” she said. “We clicked because he likes the same artists I like: Anselm Reyle, Johannes Kars,…” . But it was her discovery of his work in Berlin in 2003 that really triggered their collaboration.

“Hedi became so famous in fashion that people saw his photography as just a footnote”, said Agustín Pérez Rubio, the MUSAC’s chief curator. “But he has been taking pictures since the age of 8 or 9, I think. He is a classic photographer. His photos are perfect. Believe me, if I presented his work under the name of some Englishman named Matthew Bla Bla, people would still love it.” What is more, Reich said she sold a lot of Slimane’s artwork, which is priced from 7000 to 50000 euros, to people who have no clue who Slimane is. “You know, many art buyers don’t really care about fashion. They just buy art because they love it.”

Among the admirers of Slimane’s art is the Canadian artist Paul P, whose romantic drawings of boys were featured in Dior Homme’s summer 2006 ad campaign. “I'd heard about Hedi’s Berlin book of photographs before I followed his collections. I've always followed art first, but once I discovered the clothes it all made perfect sense that these were the works of one man”, he said. As Rubio declared, “You can’t really dissociate Hedi’s fashion and artwork .He is a Renaissance man, and his ability to diversify is performance art in itself”.

So what’s next?
So Slimane may no longer work in fashion, but he is still around, in a way. After all, he has only been away for a year. Skinny jeans, which he contributed to popularizing, are still widely worn, and this, despite feisty Facebook groups demanding their disappearance. “They are no longer just a trend, they are basics now”, confirmed a salesman at the Royal Cheese store in Paris, where brands like Aprill 77 and Cheap Monday still sell like hot buns. Reich noticed that Dior Homme has become a uniform in the art world, and Jean Denis, a teacher at the Studio Berçot fashion school, said that because of Slimane, his students were all dressed like rockers. Actually, Slimane’s aesthetic reached so far that I can still feel his ghost wafting over those Tektonik Paris kids (teens wriggling to techno music in tight jeans and tops, mule hairdos, and fluorescent colors).

But fashion is primarily a weather vane, and there are signs that people are starting to explore new paths. Denis noticed that his students were now reacting against Slimane’s skinny silhouette by designing high-waisted, pleated pants. Success agency’s Soulie asserted that her clients were also increasingly looking for “healthier-looking guys. And John Tan, who seldom did fashion stories without using Dior Homme by Hedi Slimane samples, is now experimenting with new styles and models.

“Slimane was revolutionary, and I’m saddened by his departure, but if he had stayed, I think he should have made some changes.” In the same vein, Fantastic Man’s Jonkers declared, “Hedi was very good at everything, but I don’t think you should do the same things forever. He may have had the seven-year itch. His style was very personal, and he had displayed every angle of it”.

It is true that Slimane’s two last collections were far from his best, as they did not venture into new territories. And people will probably expect a new revolution, when he returns to designing clothes. “If Hedi comes back to fashion, said Jean François Lautard, I don’t think people will want Dior Homme outfits with a new tag on them. He has to come up with a new idea, and this raises the bar. He should also define what a fashion house is today and call modern luxury into question: Is it the same boutiques on the same streets? Runway shows? Something everyone can recognize?”

But Jonkers invites us to see Slimane’s departure in an optimistic way. “Something good might come out of it. You see, with all these big groups, the whole fashion civilization might end up stuck with only 12 brands. Now Tom Ford has his own brand, Helmut Lang might have other projects, and Slimane might open his own house”, he said, thus citing two other designers whose departures were hotly-debated . But Franck Derbal, an economist at the French Fashion Institute thinks that “to succeed on a global level today, it is necessary to be backed by a big group”.

In truth, what Hedi Slimane's departure reveals is that he truly is an independent voice. And a democratic one at that, catering to big stars as well as unknown rock bands, designing tuxedos as well as promoting jeans. That’s how fashion is today, and that’s why all these fans connected with him. “People live in hope of a Hedi Slimane comeback”, said Colette’s Sarah Lerfel. Indeed, asked about those 14 last months without Hedi Slimane , Kenzo King , the “outraged” fashion student, declared, “I wouldn’t say I miss him, because when he does come back with his own label, it will be like he never left”.

(source: from the internet)

1 comment:

Fluent said...

this was all worth reading, and so true,

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