Hedi Slimane exits Saint Laurent, ending ‘unique chapter’ for French fashion house

Creative director transformed the brand, dismaying many in the fashion establishment but winning it waves of new fans, during a controversial four-year reign often rumoured to be about to end

PUBLISHED : Friday, 01 April, 2016, 3:36pm
UPDATED : Friday, 01 April, 2016, 3:38pm

The rumours came and went, but now it’s finally official. Hedi Slimane, fashion’s most controversial designer, who led Yves Saint Laurent’s rebrand as Saint Laurent Paris, has left the label after almost four years.

“What Yves Saint Laurent has achieved over the past four years represents a unique chapter in the history of the house. I am very grateful to Hedi Slimane, and the whole Yves Saint Laurent team, for having set the path that the house has successfully embraced, and which will grant longevity to this legendary brand,” said Francois-Henri Pinault, chief executive and chairman of Saint Laurent owner Kering Group, as he announced the move in Paris on Thursday evening.

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There were murmurings earlier this year that Slimane was leaving and would be replaced by Antony Vaccharello, but Kering issued a denial.

In retrospect, Slimane’s last show in Paris felt like a swan song. He reduced the already limited seating for the Saint Laurent catwalk show to around 100 (one of them being the South China Morning Post), and presented a collection with 1980s and ’90s echoes that was exceptionally glamorous, incredibly crafted and aggressive – skirts were, again exceptionally short.

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It was for some a welcome show of maturity compared with the teen vintage, rocker vibe he’d been tapping for so long for the storied fashion house. The couture-like presentation had no music, just a voice-over counting the looks in French – all very stoic and serious.

Before that Slimane, who liked to shake up the brand in almost every way imaginable, held a star-studded show in Los Angeles, the city he has called home for many years, presenting a collection with glam-rock, 1970s influences at the Hollywood Palladium. Los Angeles and it’s fallen stars have so influenced Slimane in his years as creative director of Saint Laurent, never more than in his refusal to relocate to the brand’s headquarters in Paris when he landed the job.

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What followed was endless controversy, public clashes with the media – and an undeniable surge in profits for the brand. He launched iconic garments such as Le Smoking – a sharp, androgynous tuxedo jacket for women. He stocked the brand’s luxury stores with baby-doll dresses, grungy, oversized plaid shirts and distressed leather jackets.

While many in the stuffy fashion establishment considered Saint Laurent to have a heritage with an of untouchable aura, Slimane made sure all the focus (for better or worse) was on his new vision for the house. His divisive reinterpretation of Saint Laurent was bound to rub people up the wrong way, but he also won waves of new fans with his revolutionary attitude. For a long time, Pinault kept his faith in Slimane’s vision – and the account books seemed to support this.

Like it or not, the house of Yves Saint Laurent has been transformed by Slimane. There’s no going back. The question on everyone’s lips now is, “What next?”