Hedi Slimane (pronounced “e-di sleem-ahn”) was born in Paris in 1968 to a Tunisian father and Italian mother. Thanks to his creativity, resilient business instincts, and willingness to shake up the industry, he ranks as one of most influential designers of the 21st century. In his 26-year-long career, Hedi Slimane has attracted fans, criticism, generated huge sales, and permanently altered the literal shape of menswear via some super skinny tailoring at Dior Homme.
Slimane is notably evasive of the press, retaining a rare privacy in an era of Instagram Stories and AMAs. Nonetheless, ahead of his first show as the new artistic, creative, and image director of Céline in September, we’ve rounded up five essential things to know about Hedi Slimane.
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When Slimane took the creative reins at Dior Homme in 2000, he ushered in a menswear revolution. Slimane’s penchant for narrow cuts and his idolization of waifish rock musicians was a rejection of the brawnier, more typical masculinity that had been seen on runways up to that point, and it stems from Slimane’s childhood.
An ardent music fan, Slimane’s personal adoration of androgynous rock heroes such as David Bowie informed his ambiguous, decadent aesthetic. Slimane reflected on Bowie’s Thin White Duke persona and its impact on him in a rare interview in 2015, telling Yahoo! Style, “This is pretty much the origin of everything I did in design after that, a boy or a girl with the same silhouette.”
In 2002, Slimane won the CFDA Fashion Award for International Designer (the first for a menswear designer), presented to him by none other the Bowie himself. The late icon complimented Slimane’s ability to create a “smouldering androgyny” and “sensual allure” with his designs.
The appeal of Slimane’s designs was so widespread that even Chanel creative director Karl Lagerfeld lost 90 pounds to fit into Slimane’s tailoring. “I had got along fine with my excess weight and I had no health problems (or — which would be worse — emotional problems), but I suddenly wanted to wear clothes designed by Hedi Slimane, who used to work for Saint Laurent and now creates the Dior Homme collections,” Lagerfeld wrote for English broadsheet The Telegraph.
After returning to Yves Saint Laurent as the head of both menswear and womenswear in 2012 (he’d started out at the house in the ’90s), he lopped the “Yves” off the brand’s name and changed its logo (although the OG version was retained on handbags and cosmetics). Even more contentiously, Slimane uprooted the Parisian label to Los Angeles, a bold move when most heritage fashion houses are typically headquartered in Europe. This proclivity for disruption and change would become a hallmark of Slimane’s MO as a creative director.
Slimane responded to criticism of the LA move in an interview with Vogue Italia last year, describing the backlash as a kind of snobbery. “For an obscure reason, there was such an uproar when I decided to design from Los Angeles,” he said. “In 2011, there was clearly a condescending and abrasive attitude in the industry toward Los Angeles and California.
“I was nonetheless convinced of the growing influence California would have in popular culture, music, and art, and for obvious reasons even more so with the rise of social medias. Why not designing from here and define an aesthetic around California? LA felt like the most vibrant and relevant observatory at the time.”
In many ways, Los Angeles symbolized the kind of glamor Slimane is attracted to: youthful, decadent, and intrinsically bound to music. In this case, bands such as The Growlers, who would inform much of his work at Saint Laurent, epitomized by the SS15 collection, “Psych Rock’s New Rising.”
In spite of some rare praise from Lagerfeld, Slimane’s shows haven’t always been well received, and Slimane has been unafraid of attacking journalists. Although commercially successful (Saint Laurent’s annual sales grew from $353 million to $787 million in three years under Slimane), fashion journalists have dismissed his work as derivative, notably fashion critic Cathy Horyn of The New York Times.
If you've not seen it, here's Hedi Slimane's open to letter to New York Times fashion editor Cathy Horyn. Blimey. RG pic.twitter.com/HHpyTzEY
— Sunday Times Style (@TheSTStyle) October 3, 2012
After an article in which Horyn claimed there would be no Hedi Slimane without Raf Simons, Horyn was subsequently not invited to Saint Laurent’s SS13 show. If you thought that was petty, when Horyn’s online review of the show appeared on the NYT‘s blog anyway, Slimane posted a response on his now deleted Twitter page describing her as “a schoolyard bully and also a little bit of a stand-up comedian.”
Satirically stylized as a mock-up of the paper called “My Own Times,” Slimane’s rant ended with, “I don’t mind critics, but they have to come from a fashion critic, not a publicist in disguise. I am quite mesmerized she did get away with it for so many years.”
Ouch, no one in fashion fires shots quite like Hedi Slimane.
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Slimane’s first creative pursuit was photography, which he has continued since he started shooting at just 11 years old. After his first stint at Yves Saint Laurent, Slimane moved to Berlin, where in 2003 he published the black and white photobook Berlin, documenting his exploration of the German capital’s clubbing scene. After Berlin, he moved to London to capture the indie-rock zeitgeist of the mid ’00s before settling in Los Angeles in 2007, making California his photographic muse.
You can check out his photography on his stream-of-consciousness online diary, which stretches back to 2006.
Following a hiatus to focus on art, photography, and suing Saint Laurent parent company Kering for $12.3 million for removing his contract’s non-compete clause, therefore bypassing the compensation it would have entitled him to for not working elsewhere, Slimane has returned to fashion as the new artistic, creative, and image director of Céline.
He succeeds Phoebe Philo and returns to the LVMH conglomerate, which Slimane worked for at Dior. Slimane will be introducing couture, fragrances, and most intriguingly, menswear (a first for Céline) to the refined French label. Slimane may be a menswear designer first and foremost (even if his ambiguous designs have been worn by women on and off the catwalk), but the new line makes the future of Céline, much like Slimane himself, a mystery yet to be fully unraveled.
Stay tuned for our coverage of the show and reviews of Céline menswear in September.