By  on February 25, 2002

PARIS -- Get ready female fashion fans -- Hedi Slimane is in your future.

The French designer, who has built a cult following among women with his slimmer-than-slim men's wear collections at Dior Homme, has confirmed in an interview with WWD that he harbors ambitions to do a full-blown women's wear line.

"It's in my mind," Slimane said while discussing the opening of his first Dior Homme flagship, in Milan. "It wasn't before, but it's really clear now. Within my future, I can see that. I'm going to do that as part of my natural evolution."

The when's, where's and how's of a women's apparel launch remain unanswered questions -- and complicated ones, too. At present, Slimane is charged with building Dior's men's business and image. John Galliano is Dior's couturier and has been in charge of its women's image since 1997 and also still designs his signature women's collection. It could not be learned whether part of Slimane's deal with LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton is the financing of his own women's line.

As for Slimane, it is believed if he were to launch women's wear it would be under his own name. As for further particulars about the line, all Slimane will say is, "We'll see," suggesting his change of heart is more symbolic than concrete at the moment.

Pressed to describe what might be expected from a Slimane women's line, he replied: "Clearly, my thing is about tailoring whereas some people are about flou [the French term to describe garments with fluid construction]. I have some obsessions for a certain type of allure and that's not going to change tomorrow." Currently about 10 percent of the sales of Dior Homme are to women. Slimane characterized his existing women's following as "a very particular and narrow" clientele. Famous women who have worn his designs range from Madonna and Nicole Kidman to Tilda Swinton and the model Linda Evangelista, who recently sported Dior Homme at the Visionaire party during New York Fashion Week.

"It's a woman who really wants a man's suit," he said. "It's a statement and it's for strong-minded women."

Meanwhile, some retailers are champing at the bit for the day when Slimane finally does commit himself to women's wear."I'm dying for it," said Janet Brown, a retailer in Port Washington, N.Y. "I love the clothes. To me, they're the epitome of modernity. I understand why Karl Lagerfeld was motivated to lose weight."

Cognizant of his clothes' cross-gender appeal, Dior allows Slimane to produce a limited number of pieces in small sizes, but without any other special consideration. For example, shirts and jackets button like a man's, left over right. The store makes no special concession to Slimane's female devotees, although it does carry smaller sizes. "It's more like an additional service rather than developing something or trying to build a business," Slimane said.

Indeed, in the new Milan boutique, "the service for women is no different than the service for men," he said. "But I must say if the service is good for a man, it will be good for a woman because men are so particular about their suits and tailoring."

The store's design proves Slimane is minimalist to the core. It's neither funhouse nor cultural center at a time when many designer outposts heave with such ambitions.

"It's really a store," Slimane said. "It's a real place to get fitted for clothes."

The startlingly modern boutique bowed last week at 14 Via Montenapoleone, next to the Dior women's unit. It is Slimane's first flagship for Dior Homme and is a surgically precise statement of Dior Homme's brand values and the designer's rigorous but seductive aesthetic.

Slimane conceptualized the architectural concept with technical assistance from Architecture & Associes, the firm with which he worked on his stark, gallerylike Paris atelier. Slimane oversaw all the details, from the selection of French light artist Pierre Huyghe for the fitting rooms to the playlist of electronic music from the German label Mille Plateaux/Force Tracks and such French artists as Readymade.

Upon entering the 1,800-square-foot boutique, shoppers encounter an ominous-looking staircase of gleaming, suspended stainless-steel blades, the first elongated step resembling a diving board. It ascends through a transparent white glass cube.

The floors are raw concrete, but with a trough of light edging each room to promote a sense of levitation."It's a bit ethereal," Slimane said. "Everything is floating. There's a sense of fluidity, but it's quite understated."

Indeed, while Slimane wants customers to appreciate his limited vocabulary of rich materials -- the Dior gray lacquer, the gleaming steel, the dark glass -- he ultimately hopes the store practically disappears beneath its occupant, fulfilling the minimalist promise.

Still, Slimane's boutique is bound to make a maximum impression, from the moment shoppers encounter the double-story glass facade, with doors that slide open automatically. There are also artistic "interventions," headlined by Huyghe's fitting rooms. Huyghe represented France at last year's Venice Biennale with a playful ceiling light sculpture reminiscent of early computer games. For Dior Homme, Huyghe devised a haunting concept: a series of lamps behind frosted glass that echo the visitor's movements, thanks to motion detectors on the opposite wall.

Facing Huyghe's work is a display space/rest area by Pierre Charpin featuring a white Plexiglas platform bathed in red light.

Yet Slimane is loath to make much ado about the boutique, insisting that its purpose is a practical one: to sell clothes. "Even if it has Pierre Huyghe designing one of the key elements, it still is a fitting room," he said. "I'm sure a lot of people will not be aware of it."

A designer who has proven that his slender fingers are firmly on the pulse of the modern zeitgeist, Slimane decided not to celebrate the opening with a big party, opting instead for a private reception during Milan Fashion Week, which started Sunday and runs through March 5.

The boutique, too, is meant to have an intimate atmosphere with an emphasis on elite service, including "demi-mesure," which means a range of suits that are partly custom-made.

As reported, Dior Homme plans to open its next location in late summer or early fall on Paris's Rue Royale in a 5,000-square-foot space formerly occupied by the fashion and beauty retailer Beauty By. New York, London and Tokyo are also on Slimane's wish list for Dior Homme boutiques.

In the spirit of the anti-uniformity trend spearheaded partly by Dior, which is pursuing an eclectic aesthetic by having Galliano design women's, Slimane do the men's and Victoire de Castellane make fine jewelry, Slimane said each Dior Homme unit will be different. With the Paris opening looming, the house is in the throes of selecting new artists with which to collaborate."There is no system of how to hang clothes or how to fold or how to fit," he said. "It's not that you close your eyes and wonder whether it's New York or Tokyo."

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