NEW YORK — Gucci Group isn’t the only conglomerate dealing with contract issues, as reports surfaced this week in Paris that Hedi Slimane is apparently unhappy with ongoing negotiations to renew his role as the designer of Dior Homme and might walk away from his employment with the LVMH Moët Hennessey Louis Vuitton-owned brand.
Slimane, who was already a hot property when he signed with Dior in June 2000, has since cemented his reputation as one of the most influential talents working in men’s wear today.
His critical success has been both enormous and somewhat controversial, as a number of high-profile female customers — Shalom Harlow in a Vogue feature, Linda Evangelista at the CFDA Awards in 2002, Madonna, Jeanne Moreau, Nicole Kidman and Tilda Swinton — have promoted the more androgynous pieces of his collection for Dior, raising questions of competitive protocol at a house that already has a more established couture and women’s ready-to-wear designer, John Galliano.
Slimane’s popularity and recognition have certainly benefited from such provocative circumstances, whether calculated or not, yet his ability to redefine the static silhouette of a man’s suit with narrow, femininely sexy lines has brought the most substantive attention to his career at Dior. However, sources close to Slimane said it is rather his perception of a lack of similarly respectful attention from LVMH brass that has come to be a sticking point with the designer’s negotiations.
Neither Slimane nor Dior officials could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.
LVMH’s interest in Slimane’s future at the house has been described as sincere, as even Bernard Arnault, its chairman, frequently wears Dior Homme suits to fashion shows and financial conferences.
But the conglomerate has had several run-ins with its hired designers over the subject of creative control of their respective brands: Narciso Rodriguez, who walked away from Loewe in 2001; Michael Kors, who has said he is leaving Celine by next year, and Alexander McQueen, who left Givenchy rather cheekily after selling his business to Gucci Group in 2000, have each expressed varying degrees of frustration over their roles in determining the fate of their brand’s image beyond designing product for the runways. More recently, Donna Karan’s personal involvement at her signature label was nearly jeopardized by a management struggle last year that followed the sale of her company to LVMH in 2001.At Dior, Slimane has reportedly been disappointed by several recent developments, most notably in terms of product advertising related to its men’s fragrances. After scrutinizing the placement and mood of the Richard Avedon-lensed campaign for Dior Homme, which launched with teaser ads of a shirtless Eric Van Nostrand in January 2001, there have been increasingly frequent stories of discontent with images that have appeared without Slimane’s consultation or consent.
As reported, Slimane was said to be furious with ads for Dior’s classic men’s fragrance, Eau Sauvage, which appeared in French newspapers and in FHM. The ads depicted a variety of men, shirtless and lit in a stark style that was vaguely reminiscent of his fashion advertisements.
Control of the ad concepts for related Dior products is reportedly only one issue of contention between the designer and the house. The business, while critically successful, has been slow to develop at retail — both at department stores and in terms of a planned rollout of men’s wear stores for Dior, leading to some finger-pointing. After searching for months to find a site in New York, the firm said in February it would turn over about 2,000 square feet in the LVMH tower on 57th Street, currently occupied by Dior’s fine jewelry boutique, to Dior Homme later this year.
If Slimane were to walk from LVMH, it would represent a significant loss for the house. With no formal training, he quickly became one of the most talked-about new designers in the industry through his meteoric rise at Yves Saint Laurent, from a marketing assistant in 1997 to head designer of the Rive Gauche Homme collection. He quit YSL in March 2000, following its acquisition by Gucci Group, reportedly unhappy with the creative hierarchy he faced while reporting to Tom Ford.
Although Gucci tried to retain Slimane — even floating the prospect of his own collection — he jumped to Dior, passing up offers said to include the entire Jil Sander collection, just after Sander left the Prada Group.
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