Hedi Slimane: Dior's Homme Away from Home

Though he's too self-effacing to admit it, Hedi Slimane no doubt appreciates, if only internally, his standing as one of the most exalted menswear designers in the world, not to mention in his label-lashed homeland of France, where the streets may as well be paved with gold thread. From his Dior Homme collections to an array of extra-curricular projects, he's proven he can do no wrong. Today, Slimane speaks softly but carries a big shtick, as he, uncharacteristically chatty, opens up to LEE CARTER about everything from his club kid past to a future women's line.

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Ever-exacting, Slimane fastidiously adjusts our paper placemats at Café Gitane—a packed local hang-out in New York's NoHo neighborhood where we catch breakfast—so that they remain exactly one inch apart, their scalloped edges never touching. On this, the morning after Bastille Day, he takes a blunt approach to answering my first blurry pre-coffee question—something about how he celebrated his country's most important national holiday. "I forgot about it," he deadpans. "I'm on American time."

For Slimane, this is not a slight, just nonchalance. "I love Paris," he qualifies, "but at the same time, I'm really bored in Paris. It's too grown up. It's not so much the energy I'm looking for."

Nor does Berlin hold much interest anymore. For three years, Slimane's name was synonymous with Berlin, the title subject of a book of his photographs and his home away from home where he owned a studio (now sold) at Kunst-Werke. With its suitably minimal atmosphere, the elite art space and its shabby-cool young students claimed inspiration for more than one Dior Homme collection, stirring a keen interest in the German capital among the international fashion set. "It's not that I'm over Berlin," he adds, "I like it a lot, but I've been traveling and experimenting so much, it feels like a different time for me now."

Tall, pinstripe-thin and single, Slimane is a catch. He is wearing head-to-ankle Dior Homme and a pair of beat-up Converse sneakers. The epitome of smooth, he gives the waiter our breakfast order while my misbehaving tape recorder requires all of my fussy attention. Once fixed, he continues, "I could live here. I would get a place in New York, except, with what I'm doing, it's really happening in Paris. Besides, I'm really bad with homes. I'm not interested in doing my home. But I could easily live in a hotel."

And why not? Would it be so incomprehensible for Slimane to schlep his expansive record collection Stateside and set up occupancy at The Mercer, his New York hotel of choice going on ten years? Afterall, he routinely stretches out his visits to Manhattan as long as possible. And with reason. Although Slimane is officially in town on business, for someone whose thumb never lifts from the rapid pulse of the young and painfully cool—despite that he's perpetually in flight—that involves a substantial amount of off-duty observation. Alone, he's known to roam the city's streets and avenues, neighborhood by downtown neighborhood, watching and absorbing so intently that the notion of going incognito never appears to cross his mind.

"I love to just walk around and hang out. I'm a major hang-out type of person. I don't care about being recognized," he laughs off as patrons subtly gawk even in this shoebox of a cafe. "Fashion designers think they are famous. In fact, they are not, not even Calvin Klein. There's only one famous fashion designer and that's Karl."

Karl Lagerfeld, the celebrated designer of Chanel, Fendi and his own label, Lagerfeld Gallery, created an indelible fashion moment several years back when he shed forty pounds so he could, he famously remarked, return to the svelte physique of his athletic youth and squeeze into the crisp, tailored cuts of his friend's creations. The lean, mean fitting machine has been ensconced in a black Dior Homme suit ever since.

"Hedi's attitude is right and what he does and designs is about attitude," Lagerfeld explains. "From his generation, he expresses modernity better than any other menswear designer. But he is much more than a designer. He has an eye for total modernity. Photography and design are part of that. His vision is totally now in the three different, but not so different, areas. And few designers have more than a double vision of what is going on and know how to translate it into designs and images."

"I'm very happy not only because we are close friends," Lagerfeld continues, "but also because I am his publisher at 7L. His books represent his vision so perfectly. He works on every level of what makes a book special: the layout, the lettering, the printing, the size and the photos. He has a great talent for books. He gives his stamp to everything."

This is, perhaps, what most sets Slimane apart from other designers. With punk-ish models clipping down the runway in dark fitted suits or trailing, intentionally, pieces of raiment behind their rail-thin chassis—spawning punny headlines such as "Black Is Slimane"—the heart-skipping theatricality of a Dior Homme collection can't mask a multifarious créateur who's equally, if not more, comfortable traversing the worlds of music, art and interior design. (cont'd)

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