the skinny silhouette
“Well, there came this new line from Hedi Slimane at Dior that you needed to be slim to wear. It said: ‘You want this? Go back to your bones.’ And so I lost it all. I lost 88 pounds and never got them back.” - Karl Lagerfeld
[K]arl Lagerfeld famously became addicted to Diet Coke to wear Hedi Slimane’s rakish tailoring and if Karl thought they were thin at Dior, Hedi’s models became even thinner and longer when he moved to Saint Laurent. However, his casting of young, grungy, and stick-thin teenagers struck a different chord from the “fashion endorses body-shaming” conversation that so aggressively pre-occupies womenswear. His models were so thin that it could also be viewed as a celebration of Hedi’s desire for uniqueness and his obsession with exclusivity.
Hedi wanted to bring a new male image to the forefront of the culture, pale and rakish, sexually ambiguous, a radically different look from the Versace and Gucci types that were consistently muscular, wholesome and with classic good looks. Hedi was creating his own cult, an indie army of street-cast laissez-faire models and musicians who he wanted to wear his clothes. On his narrow tailoring dimensions Hedi said, “an athletic man, or whatever you want to call him, will only look good in a very classic suit, a pair of classic jeans, athletic clothes or simply naked. Forget fashion. This is not going to happen, unless you want to look like a Chippendales dancer in designer clothes.” Well, nobody wants that.
As Karl echoes, if you wanted to wear Saint Laurent, the first thing you had to do was fit into it. The lasting effect is seen everywhere, Topman and other high-street brands stock skinny jeans ubiquitously, they are now an unchallenged part of the millennial uniform (when future film-directors set their films in the 2010s everyone will be in skinny jeans). It’s funny how Kanye West described himself as “the one who made it okay for us to wear skinny jeans” in an online twitter spat with Wiz Khalifa. It’s funny because if he knew more about fashion than the inside of an Adidas board-room he would know that the popularisation of skinny jeans stems from the bandy-legged indie boys that Hedi has championed since the beginning.
Along with skinny jeans, the Chelsea boot is one of the Saint Laurent’s most popularised items, case and point: Harry Styles loves them and is there any character more fixated with wanting to look like a cool rockstar than Harry Styles? A weird kind of status symbol amongst celebrity, the extra two to three inches of height and slim shape is certainly engendering to the Saint Laurent aesthetic. Again, the idea of men walking in heels as high as women’s is symptomatic of Slimane’s homogenisation of gender, what’s for him is also for her and vice versa. Men’s footwear followed the menswear explosion of the 2000s a few years later, and it’s now the most accessible element of men’s fashion and (to oversimplify), it’s either trainers or chelsea boots and Saint Laurent created the epitome of luxury in both.
“Since I was a child, my whole life has revolved around music. It’s often while listening to a song that ideas for my fashion collections formed.” – Hedi Slimane
Certainly no other fashion house has more connection to music than Saint Laurent, yes Kitsuné does its thing, but the fashion monopoly on rock music was engendered entirely to Hedi Slimane and his selective choice of casting. Again, this new type of male was being idolised, the David Bowie/Mick Jagger type: effeminate but virile, troubled but talented. Zachary Cole Smith and Sky Ferreira, both skinny with bleach blonde hair and dilated pupils were the new breed of fashion models slash musicians that would enforce what Saint Laurent was all about: firstly it was cool and secondly it was probably too cool for you.
Before Hedi Slimane moved there, Los Angeles was something of a running gag amongst fashion crowds, “ugh LA?”, said the London and Paris types with a sneer over a plate of macaroons. It made sense given that Saint Laurent’s menswear was starting to take influence from a more modern image: the surfer/grungey/Kurt Cobain/LA-noir type. Perhaps a look that didn’t really exist until Slimane got his hands and unique photography onto it, but he made the city of angels cool again. His final show at LA’s palladium signifies his lasting impression on the brand, taking luxury fashion out of Paris and straight into Hollywood.
“Privacy seems to be the only true luxury left today”, said Hedi in a rare interview with Yahoo! Online, of all publications. His own privacy was heavily guarded, and he was notorious for the distance he would maintain from the press. His thoughts on privacy and luxury seems like a throwaway comment but it actually reveals a lot about the way Saint Laurent marketed itself to the public and fashion’s relationship to social media. There was one very strong message: “this is not for you”. If you’re not rich enough, thin enough or cool enough Saint Laurent probably wasn’t going to accommodate you.
It creates a challenging distance between product and consumer, which is exactly what YSL wanted and needed to validate its price point. To contrast, whilst the Kardashians can disguise their former connections to Sears and other super-market brands by donning Balmain they would have never been a part of the YSL gang, they’re just too accessible, and in that sense, the opposite of luxury. For better or worse, Slimane, by championing exclusivity over diversity spearheaded the fashion cult that has spawned the covetable likes of Vetements and Supreme. His indelible legacy at Saint Laurent will go down as one of the most influential and intriguing creative directors since Yves himself.