What you can learn from Saint Laurent creative chief, Hedi Slimane

Hedi Slimane is one of the most influential fashion designer in the world.  He became the creative director at Saint Laurent, a fashion  in March 2012. Saint Laurent was started by iconic French designer, Yves St. Laurent. Slimane was born in Paris, but for past eight years has lived in Los Angeles. He joined the company after spending time as a designer for another well known fashion brand, Dior. His creativity has sparked a Saint Laurent revival. The brand has seen its revenues doubled since Slimane joined the company. The company is about to reintroduce extremely high-end couture line and it will carry company’s original name — Yves St. Laurent.

Slimane is known for his uniqueness. He is willing to stay apart from the herd, speak his mind, remain out of the media glare and allows his clothes to do the talking. You can see his handiwork in everything from the design of the stores to packaging and even the typography of the brand’s logo and in its advertising. The visual language of St. Laurent is a result of Slimane’s intense focus on detail. Obsessive, controlling and perfectionist — those words remind me of Steve Jobs.

I was reading this interview of the media-shy designer by former editor of Style.com, Dirk Standen and walked away with a distinctly positive impression of the designer. Slimane seems like such an interesting person with some deeper insights into contemporary culture and the influence of the Internet. I wish, oh, how I wish, this conversation was a little longer.

I have highlighted Slimane’s comment, that I found interesting. I stayed away from fashion, and instead stuck to his views on   society, contemporary life, brands, photography, journalism and the growing influence of Internet. There are many nuggets of wisdom here. My observations on his comments are in italics. Also, if you want share this with your friends on Twitter and Facebook, just highlight and right-click.

On Products & Brands

I always start all my design projects with writing a synopsis, a perspective around the fundamentals, together with my intentions or intuitions on what should be done.

The representation of a brand needs to be one thing only or it does not really work, it is not truly believable. In the end, a lack of alignment within the fundamentals does show. The public is really well informed, the understanding of fashion and image is very accurate today.

I constantly use my own vocabulary, and the sense of repetition of the same signs, and semiotic, the permanence of a silhouette, or proportions, and overall representation. I always believed in repetition, pursuing endlessly the same idea. You cannot own more than one identified style and you need to evolve within the same codes.

My takeaway:  What Slimane seems to be saying is that you need to be unique and have a story. More importantly, you need to know how to tell that story to everyone from your colleagues to your customers. Apple (under Steve Jobs) always knew how to tell a good story. 

On Photography

I was by nature a lonely kid. So possibly, I stayed where I was supposed to be, observing form the outside. This is presumably how photography attracted me. There was always the camera and the lens in between, I did not have to engage or to expose myself, I felt protected, and this is pretty much how I communicated since I did not speak much. The photograph was a language of its own, and I could express feelings and emotions through it.

Photography is to that extent a good observatory, probably the most accurate, and a direct and personal commitment.

My change of perspective happened through photography at first, going back to a sense of reality, unprocessed, and developed to all things designed and/or artistic.

My takeaway: looking, observing and capturing the world through photos, whether on a digital sensor, film or one’s eyes is a way to really understand the world. My own life has been changing because of my new found love for photography. I see things differently now. It is why I am constantly attracted to Instagram and Storehouse (where I am on the board.)

On fashion & creativity

Designers or creative directors in the current fashion industry have one foot in the studio, the other in the store, and both eyes on the stock exchange. Creative, strategy and management are now interconnected, and there is a lot at stake, including the image of an institution, thousand of employees and the responsibility toward shareholders.

On Criticism

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. No more insecurity and need to please, no risk of stalling, no compromise.

My takeaway: There are times you will find yourself very alone because you have a unique perspective or if you are early and tend to speak your own language. This may open you up to ridicule and criticism, but that doesn’t mean you should be discouraged and compromise. 

On design

Every single detail seems important. It is about consistency, an aesthetic equation that needs constantly to evolve. Every single block, from design to communication, needs to stay perfectly aligned.

I always designed or thought of a photograph with someone specific in mind.

Simplicity is not an easy thing to achieve, in any creative field. Just as I like an intimate song on an acoustic guitar, I like the idea to design simple pieces.

On Internet, its cultural influence & media

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.

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

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. 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 Music

Since I was a child, music was everything to me. Just like zillions of children and teenagers it was a refuge, and it is still the case today. It will always have a predominant influence in everything I do, starting with photography. As for design, I discovered fashion through album covers, and music magazines, Rock and Folk in France, or Best, or NME.

My takeaway: I wonder if a whole generation is going to miss out on the creative payload of the album cover, that aspect of music and creativity around it. Will Instagram, Vine and videos be able to replace that? Will something make a lasting impact?

Ten Hedi Slimane Quotes

  1. Los Angeles was for me is a perfect observatory of popular culture and inspiring sub-cultures.
  2. Privacy seems to be the only true luxury left today.
  3. Change is the essence of fashion.
  4. If there is no reaction, it means nobody cares. If nobody cares, then we have a problem.
  5. The influence of California is now at so many levels besides the entertainment industry.
  6. I would now rather explore an analog world, that could bypass the botoxed-digital revolution, an alternative aesthetic that feels emotional, moving and warm, slightly wrong or chaotic at times. Anything but a deadly digital flat screen world.
  7. I don’t believe you ever finally achieve everything. You never finish the race. It is an ongoing experiment. What motivates me is discovery. Searching for new music, unspoiled talents, and the excitement of youth.
  8. 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.
  9. The shoes set up the tone and attitude, they change the perception of the way one wears clothes, what we call in France “Le porté.“ The shoes, together with the hair and a precise casting, give also an idea of the time we are living in.
  10. Menswear is about perfecting the same pieces over and over again. It is a personal taste for classic or what you call iconic items.

h/t Fashion Redef