Hedi Slimane showed his Spring/Summer 2014 womenswear collection this week at the Grand Palais in Paris and it has been garnering its usual amount of press since the beginning of Slimane's tenure. However, as opposed to past collections that left people either fiercely defending Slimane's foray into womenswear, or eagerly awaiting the moment they can shout “I told you so!” about his best moments being behind him (full disclosure: TFL fell heavily in the former camp and is still very much rooting for Slimane), this season has left Slimane and the collection formerly known as YSL's corner a bit empty (with the noteworthy exception of Style.com, Suzy Menkes of the NYT, and Vogue, which all gave the collection largely favorable reviews). These praising reviews likely stem from Slimane's interpretation of traditional YSL silhouettes and his respect for the house's DNA, and certainly thanks to the reports that his collections are selling and that magazines are embracing the clothes.
Others, however, such as Pulitzer Prize winning Robin Givhan, didn't praise Slimane's efforts. In fact, quite the oppose. Givhan called the collection "ugly," "a sucker punch to sophistication," "a jab at the very meaning of luxury," "a humorless impersonation of cool," and likened it to "garments for a prostitute." The New York Times' Cathy Horyn appears to have not written a review on the collection but judging by the past, we can guess she likely sides with Givhan.
The thinning away of Team Hedi is not because his inspiration or direction changed drastically this season, and thus, alienated his fan base. Rather, Hedi has mined the same, shallow well for so long that, rather than alienating his fan base, he may have bored it to death. Rather than reward his fans’ cult-like adoration with new and covetable clothing from Saint Laurent, he’s begun turning out sub-par iterations of his own classics from his Dior Homme days. Add to this the not-infrequent media flaps – from the original feud with Ms. Horyn (now overshadowed by the recent Hedi v. Kanye West debacle), to some fairly agressive PR squabbles over the (three. THREE.) different titles for the design house, and most recently, Slimane's childish behavior directed at Parisian boutique Colette – and there is very little left to be excited about. Certainly not enough to make you want to buy Slimane’s $500 Stan Smith sneakers.
So, what went wrong? Hedi’s menswear electrified not just the fashion community, but ushered in new music trends that had not just rockers like Pete Doherety wearing Slimane’s designs, but rappers like Kanye West and more popular acts like The Killers frontman Brandon Flowers, who was frequently spotted wearing Dior Homme in its Hedi-heyday.
One theory is that Hedi’s talents were grossly exaggerated from the beginning. When he focused on menswear, he was arguably the first (in a few seasons anyway) to recall the super skinny rock’n’roll aesthetic of the 70’s - and he did so brilliantly. (Others, such as Horyn, credit Raf Simons for the creation and rise of this silhouette). And while women began wearing sized-down versions of his skinny mens’ suits, there was never any evidence that he knew how to actually design specifically for women. Conceptualizing a woman’s dress and then producing it and creating something that is aesthetically pleasing is quite different from knowing how to properly tailor a mens’ suit – Hedi’s specialty. Several looks from his Spring collection speak to this point directly.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that “all great menswear designers can’t design for women,” as that's absurd and just factually incorrect. Plenty of designers have been perfectly adept at designing for both sexes, and plenty others have made the transition from a purely menswear line to doing womenswear, as well. But, from what we’ve seen so far – Hedi’s strengths are very closely tied to his inspiration, which seems to be limited to rock star-chic, and the menswear he derives from it. When his women are grounded in those strengths, he’s capable of creating collections that are hauntingly beautiful and immediately wearable. His first womenswear collection, for instance, which was heavily inspired by YSL’s heyday but still infused with his signature skinny tailoring left over from his Dior Homme days, was brilliant and was very much considered a successful debut. Two more seasons of the same thing but worse and Saint Laurent looks to be one of the many shows next season that people will attend but is ultimately overlooked and becomes an after-thought amongst Paris collections that really, really stand out - in a good way.
On that note – how is this actually happening? Even with the brilliant but not particularly wearable designs from Stefano Pilati’s days at the house, YSL never seemed to be in disarray, despite the fact that the late founder’s partner, Pierre Berge, has recently spoken out about how glad he is that Pilati and Tom Ford (Pilati's predecessor, who somewhat single-handedly make the house profitable again) are gone. Berge still looks after the label like it is his own child and there are decades of infrastructure to build upon. So, how then, with all of that in place, does this happen? How does Slimane essentially move all design operations of one of the most iconic houses in the world to Los Angeles, where he seems to have lost tough with the reality of high fashion and with a great deal of how to conduct yourself in the business world in general? How, after he went on an extremely public Twitter tirade against one of the most respected fashion critics of our time, did no one step in sooner?
From the outside looking in, it appears that Hedi was given all of the keys to the house (he designed the collection, styled the collection and designed the set for Spring 2014; further, models are forced to sign million dollar non-disclosure agreements in order to work with the house in any capacity). These keys, so to speak, came with zero supervision, a bunch of yes-men and members of the press that praise him (and enable his already larger-than-life ego) for reasons that are almost certainly entangled in their own interests and ulterior motives. So, in short, Slimane is not a bad designer. That is obvious. He, however, (like most people) could really benefit from a "no" or a "do better" here and there and a few house rules, no?