Hedi Slimane

Hedi Slimane is teetering on the edge of “living legend” status in fashion, but his history as a designer is antithetical as can be to the tenure of the similarly revered and widely adored Phoebe Philo at Céline.

Given this, it’s no wonder in the days since LVMH revealed, first with WWD, that Slimane would be taking over Céline from Philo after she’d been nearly a decade at the creative helm, that speculation has been rife as to what shoppers and fans of the brand can expect.

Philo not only infused Céline with prestige, marketability and pushed it toward 1 billion euros in sales after a relatively fallow period following Michael Kors’ 2004 departure, she gave the house an entirely new aesthetic not focused on a male ideal of womanly beauty — always luxe and design-forward, but accessible, comfortable and very wearable, nary a stiletto in sight.

The latter of these descriptors is not something Slimane is known for — be it men’s wear or women’s wear, which he took his first and commercially successful shot at when he returned to Yves Saint Laurent in 2013 for a three-year stint.

That could change. Slimane is known for his ability to blow up a brand (in a good way) as much as he’s known for being press-shy and demanding control of every aspect of his work, and he’s surely aware of the following Céline has built under Philo. But there’s no denying the Paris-born-and-bred designer has a particular aesthetic that goes back about two decades.

After being plucked in the late Nineties from the marketing team at Yves Saint Laurent to design its Rive Gauche Pour Homme line, which soon came under the executive purview of Tom Ford, it only took a couple of years for the formally untrained designer to solidly land on his idea of men’s wear.

In January 2000, he showed his “Black Tie” collection for fall, easily a culmination of his work at the brand, and it proved to be his last. While there were no neckties on display and shirts, if shown at all, were undone to the navel, everything was indeed black and cut for the blessedly slender. A lot of those elements Slimane took with him when he jumped to Dior Homme later that year and he’s built upon them since.

While his famously svelte men’s suiting at Dior quickly gained favor among all ages in the fashion, entertainment and rocker sets, they were made to order for women, including Nicole Kidman, who wore Dior frequently during the Aughts.

Slimane’s next foray into women’s didn’t come until he returned to lead YSL after Stefano Pilati. During his second round, Slimane made some drastic changes, including changing the name to Saint Laurent and focusing on a much younger audience, but the gamble paid off. Saint Laurent’s sales soared and have continued to hold since the designer’s departure last year.

But for all of the change Slimane brought to Saint Laurent, its overall look was still something easily identifiable with him. Slimane’s Saint Laurent woman was Siouxsie Sioux with a blowout, where his YSL and Dior man had been Sid Vicious with a bank account.

That’s not to say what Slimane did for the staid world of luxury men’s wear wasn’t groundbreaking. He admitted in a July 2000 interview with WWD’s now-defunct brother publication DNR to working against what he saw as “a psychological problem with men’s wear.”

“The way things are now, if you change one button, it’s considered revolutionary,” Slimane said.

In that same interview, the designer gave a peek into his process, focused on drilling down into the man he’s designing for and Slimane will have the chance to bring that investigative ethic to Céline’s first men’s wear collection, but what’s to become of Philo’s grown-up fashion savant, obviously, remains to be seen.

Here, for the first time since its original publication, is an exclusive 2000 interview DNR nabbed with Slimane. It’s laced with comments from the designer that offer insight into another move into a new fashion house, but he also opened up about leaving YSL, his plan of artistic attack, and the prospect of doing his own line — someday.

 

Slimane Speaks

Designer says new collection will break from Dior tradition, continue YSL look.

By Miles Socha

PARIS — The picture of intensity and modern Parisian chic, Hedi Slimane strode into the restaurant at the grand Hotel Crillon here last Friday with his shoulders slightly hunched and his hands stuffed into the pockets of his sharp-shouldered suit.

He Was, as his custom, dressed head-to-toe in black, but his spirit was undeniably light, having just accepted a design post at the helm of Christian Dior men’s wear — a business ripe for reinvention.

Even as the European fashion world awaits the summer slowdown and fixates on vacation plans, Slimane is chomping at the bit to get started on the fall-winter 2000 collection he’ll show here next January. His official start date at Dior headquarters on Avenue Montaigne is July 17, but he admits he’s at work already.

“I love design so much, it’s almost painful to not have a show,” he confessed. “I missed a whole season.”

In an interview with DNR, Slimane finally spoke about the tumultuous events of the past six months: his battle for creative control after Gucci Group acquired Yves Saint Laurent late last year; his resignation as men’s designer of YSL, where he cemented his reputation, and the ensuing months of uncertainty, during which he weighed a number of options, including a Gucci Group-sponsored signature collection or a post at Prada-controlled Jil Sander.

Slimane apologized for his silence over the last few months while speculation swirled about where he might land.

“It was a difficult period,” he said, alluding to the outside pressures he faced from various advisers. “But ultimately it was not a difficult decision. I really tried hard to stay completely focused on my own way of thinking.”

Slimane gave few specifics about his various negotiations, but made it clear that the prospect of working at the legendary house of Dior, and continuing his work redefining and challenging traditional notions of men’s fashion, emerged as the most attractive option for this moment in his career.

“There is a psychological problem with men’s wear, this sense that you can’t wear this or that. The way things are now, if you change on button it’s considered revolutionary,” he said. “It’s not that I’m political about men’s wear, but there are some statements to make.”

Not that Slimane is interested in shocking anyone. In fact, he prefers, for the moment, to work within the “institutional” setting of a legendary fashion house with a rich history and heritage. It not only lends his work a certain credibility and clout, but he said he enjoys the challenge of finding something new to say within a somewhat set vocabulary.

“Somehow, I believe you can sometimes have more freedom working within a framework,” he said.

Slimane did not rule out launching his own label, which was the focus of his “exclusive negotiations” with Gucci Group, which commenced last March. Women’s wear would have been part of that package, he confirmed, but his decision to remake Dior men’s wear does not rule out other possibilities for the future.

“I don’t intend to stop designing in a few years,” the 32-year-old said. “And I’m not saying ‘no’ to women’s’ — not at all. But once you do your own label, you have to be sure you can do it exactly the right way. If I want to do my own collection, I want to be completely sure of the future of it.

“The projects I have in mind for Dior, to me, are much more appealing and much more exciting.”

Again, Slimane provided few specifics, but said his new concept for Christian Dior men’s will be a complete departure for the house, and a continuation of his work at YSL, where he always attempted to put his sexy, sharply tailored and provocative style into broader cultural context. For example, he once threw a black-tie dance party at the 19th-century Opera Garnier that he pronounced to be as important as the collection that season.

“I always think more about the universe than just the clothes,” he said “It’s more about the big picture. I’m interested in this man in the sense of where he lives, what sort of house, what kind of car he drives where he goes to eat or dance. In America you call it ‘lifestyle.’”

In the midst of negotiations with Gucci, Slimane confirmed that he met Bernard Arnault, chief of luxury giant LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, who minds very closely the house of Dior. Slimane said he found Arnault very “open, pleasant and accessible” — and completely in sync with his vision for the house. “It was one of the elements that was very important to my final decision,” he said.

And so was the connection he established with Sidney Toledano, president of Christian Dior Couture. “He understood completely what I was proposing to do,” he said. “It’s going to be a big change.”

Toledano said the classic, business-suit-focused men’s wear of Christian Dior, designer for the past nine years by Patrick Lavoix, will continue, albeit tweaked by Slimane’s sensibility. But Slimane will introduce a new collection, yet unnamed, which will be launched on a global basis, with advertising support and a separate retail network. The first location is slated to open before the end of 2001, with Paris and New York as top priorities.

“We needed somebody with a vision to work on this global project,” Toledano said. “There’s a huge potential worldwide to develop this business.” In hiring Slimane, Toledano aims for a makeover on the scale of the one accomplished by John Galliano, brought over to head Christian Dior couture and women’s wear in 1996.

At present, men’s wear accounts for perhaps 20 percent of the Dior business, Toledano said, but the product is not widely available outside of Europe and almost nonexistent in the U.S. market.

Slimane characterized moving from YSL to Christian Dior as a “natural” next step in his career, given his fascination with the tradition of French fashion and what he perceives as a broad cultural renaissance in Paris, spanning popular music, literature, the visual arts and fashion.

He vowed to preserve the classic nature of the Dior style and its legendary rigor, while thrusting it into the modern age. And don’t expect a rerun of his work at YSL.

“I don’t think it is ever possible to do the same thing again,” he said. “Obviously when you work within a house you have certain codes that emanate from the house and you have certain sensibilities that will come from the designer. This will not change.”

But will Slimane himself change? Will he, for example, shed his all-black YSL wardrobe and embrace the flannel associated with Dior?

“Don’t worry,” he said with a chuckle. “I love the color gray.”

— July 5, 2000

For More From the WWD Archive, See:

When Tom and Dom Left Gucci Group

When Karl Came to Chanel

When Naomi, Christy and Linda Lost to Kate, Kristen and Shalom

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