image: Instagram

image: Instagram

Hedi Slimane has stepped down from his now-former position as creative director for the house of Yves Saint Laurent, and as of April 1, Anthony Vaccarello has been named as his successor. Interestingly and to much resulting furor, YSL has wiped the slate clean of Slimane, the creative, who revamped and rebranded the famed Paris-based house when he took the helm in 2012. Its recently-launched Instagram account – which went from a bearing a small number of photos, mostly in connection with Part I of the house’s F/W 2016 collection to depicting a single photo (a black and white portrait of Vaccarello) – is the most obvious sign of that.

The skinny rocker wares and grungy get-ups – for which Slimane has become known since his days at Dior Homme – found a home on the Saint Laurent runway, and while it is largely understood that Slimane looks very much to the past for inspiration – at times merely recreating looks that existed (and were worn by musicians) decades before – he had a hand in helping YSL to stock its shelves with things consumers wanted to buy.

Revenue and profit reports during Slimane’s tenure certainly speak to this. The house charted rapid growth with Hedi at the helm, outpacing most other designer brands as the luxury sector entered a period of more moderate expansion. In January, for instance, YSL reported that retail sales were up 32 percent in the quarter, with even Mainland China recording a sharp increase.

It is certainly an interesting move. A bold attempt to erase the past four years, is it? Or a symbolic new beginning, maybe? It is not entirely clear what YSL’s social media team is hoping to achieve.

BoF provided suggestions this past week, noting: “Fans of Slimane — many of whom are still reeling from the news that their fashion god has exited the proverbial building — say it is disrespectful of the contributions he made to the storied French house during his four-year tenure, transforming Yves Saint Laurent from an unprofitable problem child in Kering’s luxury brand portfolio to the star pupil, outperforming all of its peers. Others shrugged their shoulders.” 

And contributions Slimane undoubtedly made. He famously dropped the “Yves,” giving the house’s ready-to-wear collection the simplified, Saint Laurent name. He oversaw changes to the RTW collection’s logo, as well as store designs and revamps in the house’s campaigns. And then, of course, there are his many additions to the house’s roster of garments and accessories.

WHO OWNS WHAT?

The dual Instagram clearing has raised many questions amongst fashion fans and the fashion press alike. One that has not been addressed, but which is undeniably important, and which may play a role in the social media showdown, however, is this: Who owns the rights to any of the aforementioned photos – the campaign images, the runway shots, etc. – that appeared on both the brand and Slimane’s accounts? While this may seem like a completely straightforward answer – THE BRAND! – the YSL, Slimane relationship was a multifaceted one, and as a result, this answer is not quite as simple as one might expect.

Consider the role that Slimane played while employed by YSL. Not just a plain-and-simple creative director, Slimane oversaw and was involved in many additional aspects of the house’s operations. He had a say in the casting of the models; he designed the show sets; he was closely involved in the selection of the runway show music; he photographed the ad campaigns. He also oversaw the collections, as well, of course. In short: Slimane had a hand in creating much more than just the garments and accessories we saw each season.

However, despite such creative involvement, the ultimate product is technically not that of Hedi Slimane; it is YSL. The runway show is presented under the YSL name. The stores where one can purchase the clothes are YSL stores. The ad campaigns are YSL, etc. This is not only customary practice for creative directors, it is the result of careful contracts between the house and the creative director.

In a traditional employment relationship, part of what an employer, such as YSL, is paying for in enlisting a certain creative, say Slimane, is the right to own all of the intellectual property rights in connection with his creative outputs for the duration of his tenure with the house. As a result of carefully crafted contract clauses, the rights to all of the aforementioned creations tend to become the property of the brand, regardless of who actually created these things.

If we look to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, this concept is put into more concrete terms. The Janis high heeled pump that Slimane showed in one of his early collections for the house was awarded design patent protection in July 2015. While Slimane is listed on the patent as the inventor of the shoe, the patent rights in the shoe were assigned to (read: transferred and now belong to) YSL. The same can be said for every other patented design that came from YSL during Slimane’s tenure, and there are quite a few, including those for bags, and a number of jewelry and footwear designs.

But what about photos? In between his Dior Homme tenure and his four-year stint at YSL, Slimane – who is not just a fashion designer but also a photographer – decamped to Los Angeles and spent his time fostering his craft, namely, shooting skinny young rocker types and models and documenting it on his lengthy, archive-like website, Hedi Slimane Diary. As a free agent during that time, he undoubtedly owns the rights to those photos; the photographer is deemed the natural copyright holder in accordance with U.S. copyright law.

What about the array of photos he lensed during his time at Saint Laurent? Well, it is likely safe to say that any of the photos he took in his own time, when he was off the clock, so to speak, are his. The demands placed upon the modern day creative director are extreme but they are often permitted to partake in outside projects – as long as they’re not in violation of exclusivity clauses in their contracts of course.

Another traditionally easy one: The photos that Slimane contributed to YSL ad campaigns and lookbooks. The rights in these – assuming that there are not contract provisions to the contrary – would likely fall squarely in the hands of the design house. These are the photos that adorned the brand’s Instagram account. 

Still yet another easy one: The non-YSL photos that Slimane took during and/or prior to his YSL appointment, such as those that are included in his book, “Sonic,” which was released in 2014 – smack in the middle of his YSL tenure. These shots, which include subjects, such as Amy Winehouse, Justin Timberlake, Frances Bean Cobain, Keith Richard, and Lou Reed, were all taken prior to his time at YSL (taken between 1996 and 2011) and are property of Slimane.

(Note: He clearly took these photos outside of his role as creative director of Dior Homme, a position he held from 2000 to 2007, or else they would arguably belong to Dior – showing it is obviously possible for creative directors to produce creative works in a capacity outside of their day jobs, which we already knew, of course).

The more difficult question comes when considering the countless photos Slimane took while maybe not technically acting in his capacity as creative director. There are the backstage shots for any of the runway shows, for instance. Or the “Private” session photos that look a whole like the some of the images that ultimately became ad campaigns (think: photos of Cara Delevingne in YSL couture that Slimane labels as a “Private Session” on his Twitter but are almost identical to ones that are included in the house’s latest couture campaign).

There is a potential (albeit weak) argument that Slimane was acting more as a photographer in this capacity and not so much as the house’s creative director – especially since the photos were never utilized by YSL. In fact, houses bring in and/or allow for outside photographers to come backstage before/after shows to document the action all the time.

Frankly, regardless of whatever happened to those shots – whether they reside in YSL’s archives or appear on Slimane’s Diary site (which some do) – they are most likely the property of YSL. Because Slimane’s role as “creative director” was so vast and arguably encompassed a number of other roles (such as photographer), hence the quotation marks, his personal photography while on the clock at YSL very well may have been covered by contract and thus, belongs to the house.

UPDATE (April 15, 2018): In light of the ongoing legal battle that Slimane waged against YSL in connection with his non-compete clause and his compensation in accordance with it, some insight as to the mass photo deletion. As it turns out, also on the table in the war between Slimane and Saint Laurent is, in fact, a fight over the ownership of the Slimane-lensed  photographs in Saint Laurent’s online archive.

Slimane seemingly won that round with Saint Laurent wiping its entire Instagram account clean of all Slimane-lensed imagery in April 2016. Following Slimane’s April 1 departure from the brand, its Instagram account went from  bearing a small number of photos, mostly in connection with Part I of the house’s F/W 2016 collection to depicting a single photo, a black and white portrait of Slimane’s successor Anthony Vaccarello.