Hedi Slimane's works capture the spirit of rock

PUBLISHED : Friday, 12 December, 2014, 5:14pm
UPDATED : Friday, 12 December, 2014, 5:14pm

Since Hedi Slimane was appointed creative director of Saint Laurent in 2012, the media has spent much time questioning his way of reinterpreting the French maison. So much so, that his photography has been overlooked.

But it's precisely this talent - his aptitude for capturing and romanticising the spirit of youth - that is on display at his first Parisian solo exhibition, titled "Sonic", which takes place at the Fondation Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent in Paris until January 11.

Slimane's fashion and photographs seem to be cut from the same cloth: he is dedicated to the glorification of trans-generational youth and to the sublimation of subcultures and their icons. Like a teenager who doesn't pay attention to the expectations of his parents, Slimane seemingly couldn't care less about the opinion of his critics.

At Dior Homme, where he was at the creative helm until 2007, he celebrated heroin chic, imposing an emaciated menswear look. Shredded skinny jeans, slim ties and sharp tuxedos were his signature style, a look which eventually had an impact beyond seasonal fashions. His black-and-white photographs convey the same feeling, one ruled by an innocent yet untamable stubbornness.

The pictures guide us through London's and California's alternative music scenes, with portraits of rockers shot in a raw documentary style. The spectacle was further defined by a loud noise in the exhibition space, although discrete, whistling, sound of halogen lamps might have been an unintended sound installation.

"It is about the most tenuous sign; a reduction of the subject to its core," says Slimane, referring to the meaning of the title, "Sonic".

"It goes beyond the scope of sound, in a most simple way. The title is like holding a single note, a vibration, a whisper, as in the song title of The Sound of Silence by Simon & Garfunkel. The title is the opposite of the exhibition itself, as the latter is based on energy, and on chaos sometimes, on a form of romantic disorder, which is essential to youth."

It is precisely this romantic disorder that is reflected in the eyes of his subjects - Keith Richards, Amy Winehouse, Pete Doherty, Sky Ferreira, among others - and through shots of tumultuous concert audiences and ecstatic fans. Slimane is fond of a crowd that moves with delicious anarchy.

"I wanted to evoke a universal kind of youth, so time and space don't really matter in this context," Slimane adds. "Are all the young people in this world similar to each other? Take Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin's portraits of the 17th century. They might have made the same promise: the scope of endless possibilities, the idea that the world still belongs to youth, in a carefree, innocent, and sometimes melancholic way, with no restraints of any kind. I am always touched by the sincerity of it."

Slimane is fascinated with California's influential culture scene, and this fascination is so strong that it has become a key element of the new Saint Laurent Paris' identity. California-based artists and musicians have been invited to contribute to his shows each season. "California is without doubt experiencing one of the most promising periods for alternative music, including surf music and the rise of psychedelic music," he says.

One might think of how Saint Laurent Paris' new Psych Rock campaign, starring Grace Hartzel, is emblematic of fusing California's fresh energy with a Parisian je ne sais quoi.

Slimane's exhibition is dedicated to the icons of a certain scene and generation.

"I'm interested in the commitment, the intimate relationship between a fan and his idol, and how a playlist can be the guiding thread of his life," he says.

Slimane feels Los Angeles, in particular, will probably serve as an inspiration for years to come. His photography is here to stay, he says, regardless of his work in fashion.

"Photography is deeply rooted in my life. I have always been an observer. All I have done is highlight something that that affected me in some way. I could not bear to have a moment without photography. It will be with me until the day I die."