Must-Read: Hedi Slimane is Surprisingly Candid in a Rare Interview About Saint Laurent

saint laurent bag street stylePhoto: Viva Luxury Blog

Since taking the helm at YSL three years ago, Hedi Slimane not only changed the beloved brand’s name to Saint Laurent, but he also overhauled its entire image—all the while remaining intensely private. Like any creative powerhouse, Slimane’s got his critics but there’s no denying his influence has been a coup for the label: Saint Laurent’s revenue has doubled since he stepped in, and sales increased by 27% for the second quarter of 2015.

Although more than a few die-hard fashion fans balked when they heard Slimane was—horror!—axing Yves from the brand’s name, it seems most are fully on board now, thanks to the designer’s vision that included bringing a beyond-cool rock and roll vibe to the prestigious French house and creating must-have pieces like leather moto jackets, skinny trousers, louche silk blouses, and sexy kitten heels.

If the mark of a great designer is to keep us guessing, then Slimane fits the bill: It was recently revealed that he plans to reintroduce couture to Saint Laurent, a facet of the label that’s remained dormant since the late Yves Saint Laurent showed his final haute couture collection in Paris back in 2002.

To talk about that (and plenty more) the famously media-shy Slimane has opened up to veteran fashion writer Dirk Standen in a lengthy but fascinating interview with Yahoo Style that’s a must-read for anyone who follows fashion. Here, we’ve pulled out a few interesting quotes, but be sure to head over to Yahoo and read the piece in its entirety.   

On his decision to drop the “Yves” and change the brand’s name to Saint Laurent.

“I believe the restoration of the name ‘Saint Laurent’ was the only right thing to do, despite the irrational reactions surrounding my first year, ironically a blessing in disguise that unexpectedly gave all the publicity that was needed for my project. Naturally, I couldn’t possibly imagine that going back to the historical and most respectful roots of Yves would create such a polemic.”

On continuing to reference Yves in current collections.

“I do it constantly, directly or indirectly. This is a different world though, and what matters is our time, this current generation. As you mention, it can be through different ideas and mediums, but Yves is always on my mind, it is a constant point of reference … I am very familiar with the archives of Yves Saint Laurent since the late ’90s. I love nothing more than going back to the Foundation, Avenue Marceau.”

On what it was like working with Yves.

“Yves was really shy, and I was way younger and quite impressed by his elegance, aura and kindness. I am also a photographer, and I keep a vibrant souvenir of the portraits of him I missed, stuck forever in my head. I remember Yves’ attitude when we were discussing men’s fashion in the Deco Salon of Avenue Marceau. Yves had a very specific way to hold his cigarette and move, wearing an impeccable double-breasted brown suit from Charvet.”

On negative reactions to his collections.

“I completely understand the reactions. There was a particular context, like someone switching off the music at a birthday party, but I knew my project would be sensitive . . . Really early on, my project was surrounded by heavy politics and conflicts of interests. It all started before my first show, out of endless speculations. The tone was set no matter what I would design the first season.”

On how criticism motivated him to success.

“Criticism and polemic somehow allowed me to simply go straight to the point, take the highway. If you have a lot against you, you have nothing to lose, and you win your freedom. It is an open road to focus and pursue your goal with no strings attached.”

Yves Saint Laurent Designer Hedi Slimane Portrait Session

Hedi Slimane. Photo: Getty

On digital fashion journalism:

“I have always been comfortable with the Internet, and was interested by the idea it was giving new means to speak your voice …There is sometimes a risk with immediacy, and collateral damage with the news race. The lack of fact checking will certainly improve in the future.”

On fashion bloggers:

“I like the concept of blogs, and the multiplicity of voices, the global discussion. The way it has forced the establishment to change its perspective. The evolution is exciting, even if designers end up extremely exposed, always on the hot seat. There is naturally the question of the independence of the blogs, who finances them, are they free from the power of advertising, or any other sort of conflicting situation. Overall the wide range of voices allows for a fresh perspective.”

On living in Los Angeles:

“Los Angeles has been my home for almost eight years now. I trust I cannot live anywhere else at this point.”

On his daily routine:

“I start the day reviewing emails from the Paris studio. I mostly take care of store design, visual merchandising, advertising, press matters in the morning. I have fittings almost everyday, from mid-morning till evening … At night I see concerts, or work on music-related things, sometimes on photo shoots, although I tend now to shoot only on the weekends. There is no time off really; it is an ongoing creative process.”

On the current Saint Laurent team:

“The team here is quite small. I am not fond of big teams. Around 15 people now, but half of them are image-related and photography assistants. The other half is fabrics and studio. The team at Saint Laurent in Paris and Los Angeles is quite extraordinary, I am very lucky to have them, and be surrounded by all of them. I don’t have first assistants or stylists, so it is quite a lot of work to design six full collections, accessories, store design, shoot all the campaigns etc. But everyone here is very helpful and fun to work with.”

On why he continues to cast runway shows and ad campaigns himself:

“I always designed or thought of a photograph with someone specific in mind. I always pursue the same character—a specific energy, creativity, individuality—it is never quite about classic beauty, although I understand the appeal, it is not something that moves me. I always look for singular characters, a sense of reality, mostly strong personalities, sometimes melancholy, or when it comes to design, a certain personal style.”

Saint Laurent S15

Saint Laurent Spring Summer. 2015 Photo: Imaxtree

On whether runway shows will have a place in the digital age.

“I still find it a necessity, let alone for a house such as Yves Saint Laurent. It is still a catalyzer, a moment of focus, a sort of liturgy. Social media gave a different perspective on shows, and a global appeal.”

On the state of fashion in 2015.

“The audience has changed and increased with social media, which is now the main support for fashion and a direct connection. The Internet completely took over the industry. Your audience owns your communication.

On a different note, the acceleration of fashion, and growing number of collections, is still an unresolved issue.

The fashion industry has not caught up to the current pace of social media.”

On what motivates him.

“What motivates me is discovery.  Searching for new music, unspoiled talents, and the excitement of youth. There is nothing to be jaded about; there is constantly change and evolution around. You need to be curious and open to new things, and never think it was better before, since nothing is ever the same.”

To read the full interview with Hedi Slimane, head over to Yahoo Style.