Hedi Slimane: Dior's Homme Away from Home

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With ample sky-blue peepers conveying equal parts intensity and bonhomie, Slimane is most animated when he speaks about his "projects," some of which fall under the aegis of Dior Homme, others functioning as outgrowths from it, and still others entirely distinct. Yet they all share that inimitable Slimane burnish, a quality borne out of a sincere delight in the creative process. Not only does each Dior Homme boutique, which he micro-orchestrates, feature dressing rooms designed by renowned artists such as Ugo Rondinone, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster and Pierre Huyghe, but he's constantly adding to the Dior Homme merchandising oeuvre, having just put out a trio of colognes and, coming this fall, a men's watch priced into the next galaxy.

"I love so much to do projects," Slimane reiterates, in charming word reversal. "I have no intention to ever stop doing fashion. I really love it. But to always be concentrated on one thing? I'm not sure I want that. I love so much to create different things."

Even big-ticket items get the Slimane once-over. After breaking his contract eight months ago with Cappellini, claiming the high-end Italian furniture-maker was "too procedural and slow," he was called up by none other than Rei Kawakubo. Comme des Garçons's always-three-steps-ahead designer wanted Slimane to apply his singular vision to a new line of furniture sold exclusively in London at her soon-to-open Dover Street Market, the highly-anticipated, multi-vendor experiment in mass collaboration. The extremely limited-edition endeavor (seven designs, ten pieces each) embodies the Slimane aesthetic by utilizing only hand-crafted ebony and stainless steel. "In the tradition of arts décoratifs," Slimane describes, "the furniture transposes French social conventions of the 17th and 18th centuries into a minimal vocabulary for today."

And then there are the books. Slimane's third and latest, Stage, is a collection of black-and-white photographs he snapped while touring, as costume designer, with bands ranging from the Rolling Stones and David Bowie to Air and Franz Ferdinand. Critically-acclaimed, the tome is an adroit synthesis of Slimane's dual graphic and humanistic sensibilities, and his new-found affection for rock 'n' roll, a departure from the beeps and whirrs of electronic music he once espoused. (Select photos from Stage can soon be seen as a video installation at the Almine Rech gallery in Paris.) Though he has no plans yet for a fourth book, he's still documenting bands and, when asked, says a sequel is not out of the question.

For the iPod-wielding Slimane—who designed a black leather case for the little gizmos long before the onslaught of imitators—dressing musicians holds a keen fascination that others reserve for Hollywood's well-trod red carpet. Always diplomatic, he says he's honored to have dressed big-screen royalty, including Brad Pitt (for his wedding) and Catherine Deneuve, as well as personal faves Ewan McGregor and Orlando Bloom. But, for Slimane, it's about music. "Mostly, I love to dress Alex Kapranos (Franz Ferdinand), the Libertines, Kim (Gordon) and Thurston (Moore) from Sonic Youth and Beck. Everything Beck wears looks so casual and natural," he gushes, before another check of the placemats. "I especially like the transformation just before going onstage. That's the moment when they become rock stars."

Slimane's own transformation into a star began early. Although he was enrolled at the prestigious Ecole du Louvre, majoring in art history, he claims he was restless and looking for a diversion from the "ladies in pearls" mentality he encountered there. Enter nightclubs. Slimane, "a major club kid" (though not of the circus-act variety), says he went out every night for years, finding inspiration in fashion, particularly in the men's collections of Yohji Yamamoto in the 80s. He elucidates, "(Yamamoto) had strong concepts for men's fashion, but in the end it was not just about the concept, but about a balance. He had a very focused philosophy, but the clothes were still wearable. That's very important to me still."

From there, Slimane's early and sudden rise is fairly well-documented, but, for the uninitiated, it goes something like this. Through a series of fortuitous introductions (beginning with the fashion consultant Jean-Jacques Picart, largely responsible for the success of Christian Lacroix, and Christophe Girard, now the cultural minister of Paris), Slimane met living icon Yves Saint Laurent and YSL chief Pierre Bergé. But, in what could have become one of fashion's most regrettable missed opportunities, Slimane says those first few steps were a hard sell. "Picart kept pushing me into design, but I really didn't want to do it. I never wanted to go into design," he discloses. "Then one day he asked if I would just like to meet Pierre Bergé. I did, and he hired me. But it's not like they really needed a designer. Why would I have been chosen to go into something like that? I think it was because of the way I was thinking at the time."

Slimane took baby steps at first. "The second season they asked me to do a little presentation. It was only two models in twenty looks set in an 18th century French salon. It was shown to only about five people, including Suzy Menkes, Carine Roitfeld, Hamish Bowles, Jim Moore from GQ, and Le Figaro editors. It was really nice, really couture. It was very prudent that I didn't start right away with a big show. I needed time to develop it. I had to first make it known where I was going. For example, I was not into buff bodies, like big 80's bodies."

He's referring to of one his calling cards: his choice of male models. Rarely plucked from the circuit of professional mannequins ubiquitously appearing on runways stretching from New York to Milan, Slimane's models—whom he used to nab exclusively from the streets of Berlin—possess, "something chemical, an energy. I'm more interested in magnetism than flesh. I'm not into the traditional idea that a man has to be manly."

With this and other subversive tactics, it took only six months for the then 27-year-old Slimane to go from assistant to head designer at Saint Laurent Homme, hitherto a less-than-gatecrashed slot on the show schedule. But as speedily as Slimane forged ahead in rebuilding the men's division of the august label into a must-steal ticket, he ran into a roadblock. "I found such a complex situation with licensing at Saint Laurent. When I started, the house was like a sleeping beauty. There was no personality. There was no way for the house to really show what it could be. It was really horrible." (cont'd)

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