by Laura Craik
If you want to know how to triumph in the fashion industry - that overcrowded, overpriced, overheated stratum where the household names claw like cats in silk sacks for your yen - take Hedi Slimane as your blueprint. Slimane has it all sewn up.
They're queuing up to be dressed by the LA-based Frenchman, who took over at Saint Laurent barely more than a year ago. His celebrity fans can wear anything by anyone but it's Slimane they choose. Angie & Brad. Kate & Jamie. Mick & Ronnie. Rihanna, Gaga, Cara, Scarlett, Justin, Harry, Carine - the "no surname required" brigade all love his shrug-shouldered brand of cool. That the brand in question had its name changed matters not to them. Slimane dropped the Yves from Saint Laurent when he took over in 2012, a move that seemed arrogant at the time and still does even if the arrogance may now be justified. It's not Yves Saint Laurent his fans are loyal to: it's Slimane.
If he was cavalier before he earned the right to be, it paid off. Recent figures from the parent company, Kering, show revenue at Saint Laurent has increased by 7.2%, with sales of ready-to-wear up by 41%. That's a lot of skinny trousers.
The high street is awash with Saint Laurent look-alike plaid shirts, leather skirts and ankle boots churned out by retailers eager to sop up demand for Slimane's sexy, youthful aesthetic among customers who can't afford the real thing.
Everyone knows about Yves Saint Laurent. Few know about Slimane. Fiercely private, highly exacting and not one to suffer fools, the more adulation he receives, the less he seems to engage with it. He is the designer it would be most terrifying to get stuck with in a lift.
Don't worry. Here's what to say if you ever are. With our bluffer's guide to fashion's most influential designer, you need never be stuck for conversation again.
* I really hate baggy clothes: Key to the Saint Laurent aesthetic is a lean, mean, street-smart appearance best described as "Kate Moss meets Blondie in Danceteria". Spray-on jeans, teeny-tiny pelmet skirts, leather boob tubes, sexy fishnets and biker jackets are all part of the look, while for northern autumn 2013 plaid shirts, woolly cardigans and floral-sprigged dresses all nod to the grunge era. None of it is new. All of it is selling. Turns out there is a huge market for luxed-up versions of the clothes you once wore in the early 90s when you wanted to look like the lead singer in a band. Turns out a lot of women still want to look like the lead singer in a band. Even if they're 62.
* Menswear is the purest form of fashion: Slimane made his name at Dior Homme and those trademark tuxedos and smoking jackets, worn with skinny jeans, are still the iconic designs with which he is most closely aligned. Something about their slim, eviscerated cut makes men look cooler when they wear them, a fact that hasn't been lost on Justin Timberlake, Lenny Kravitz, Pete Doherty and the Rolling Stones.
* Would you like some help with that? "Designer" is just one of the many hats Slimane wears. He is also in charge of styling the shows, designing the sets, sourcing the music, overseeing the look of all the stores and photographing the ad campaigns (between exiting Dior and starting at YSL, he took time out to explore his passion for photography). Slimane has a reputation for being controlling but his strategy is working. As Christopher Bailey knows, the best way to ensure a strong, consistent global brand identity is to do everything yourself.
* I like fashion, but music will always be cooler: Slimane has dressed every rock god from David Bowie to Mick Jagger. The Kills, Daft Punk, and, er, Sky Ferreira have sat on his front row, while the "music project" section of the Saint Laurent website features tie-ins with Courtney Love, Kim Gordon and Beck.
* Have you heard the new Kanye album? Slimane's love of music doesn't extend to Yeezy: according to West, the designer would only invite him on to his frow if he turned down attending any other shows that season, a stipulation to which West didn't agree. True? Who knows? But Kanye won't let it lie: not content with dissing Slimane in a song (I Am a God), he also spent part of a recent gig ranting about his perceived arrogance. If Kim Kardashian ever makes the cover of American Vogue, she sure won't be in Saint Laurent.
* Don't you just love this season's trend for ironic logo sweatshirts? "Homies" in the same font as the Hermes logo, "Feline" in the same font as Celine - even the most exclusive brands have tolerated the silly homages. Not Slimane. When the cult Parisian boutique Colette started selling a T-shirt bearing the legend "Ain't Laurent Without Yves", Slimane promptly cut off business relations with the store, cancelling its spring order (worth more than $310,000 at wholesale) after a 15-year relationship.
* I love to shop in plush, glittery environments full of overstuffed cushions and swag: As part of his brand overhaul, Slimane rolled out a sleek, minimalist boutique design that's high on chrome and polished concrete and low on lighting, embellishment and other ephemera. Slimane designed it from top to toe. Obviously.
* Isn't LA just full of Hollisters, plastic surgery and Juicy Couture sweatpants? A small thing like being made creative director of a venerable Parisian house doesn't come between Slimane and his love of LA: undeterred, he simply relocated Saint Laurent's design studio and staff. "The creative studio is in a designer's head. Hedi should be left to do fashion in a city he likes," says Saint Laurent's former business partner Pierre Berge, fully aware that Yves himself did most of his designing in Morocco. Purists need not worry: the clothes are still made entirely in Paris.