I recently read the interview that Hedi Slimane gave to Vogue Italy and the article written by Vanessa Friedman, published on the New York Times on his hint of a coming back into fashion.
Friedman describes Slimane as "the most in-fashion out-of-fashion" and she says that despite the relevant reset he did for Saint Laurent he also created roadblocks to growth.
Hedi Slimane is certainly the most polarizing fashion designer of the present century. As Alice in Wonderland Mad Hatter was used to say "all the best people are crazy". Slimane is one of the most relevant fashion designers as well as one of the less likable.
His followers love him with no limits and the haters despise him with the same intensity.
Because he is not a pleaser, he’s a passionate designer who has a monolithic vision of his fashion enhanced by his lifestyle in California and he never fished for compliments. He never did it with his bosses. Nor with his dear friend Karl Lagerfeld.
He’s not a fashion darling. At the first show for Saint Laurent he upset most of the fashion press olympus placing front row his young friends, the members of that California secret society that anticipated the trend of influencers.
Fashion press loves him only if they fit in his slim-crazy outfits. He’s an old style fashion diva and in a fashion brand he clearly is the boss.
But that’s not a surprise. Who Hedi Slimane is and how difficult it is to manage him in a fashion brand came out very clear when he started working at Dior. And that’s the reason why LVMH didn’t keep him. He is a boss, he set the rules and he needs a CEO who can manage him properly like Domenico De Sole successfully did with Tom Ford.
When Slimane entered the Saint Laurent chapter he successfully revamped the Brand, he made it a pure phenomenon running around his personality. He was an irreverent eclectic guy managing from California a French brand. He’s not a yes man and he doesn’t know the word cost optimization. He’s the nightmare of CEOs, CFOs and Supply Chain Directors.
He sets his own pace in terms of advertising campaigns, in terms of collection development. He’s a leader, not a follower. And this is the reason why he frequently clashes with the C-suite.
He’s most interested in developing his own vision (same was for Alexander McQueen and John Galliano) than in following the rules of business and management. He’s different in this sense from Karl Lagerfeld who is certainly more grounded and pragmatic.
Slimane was all of that when he was tactically hired for Saint Laurent. Maybe he thought it was for the lifetime but he didn’t realize that, in our era, designers may have an expiration date, like a bottle of milk. Especially when they think outside the box.
It’s not the time anymore of the Valentino and Giammetti, Dom and Tom, Bergé and Saint Laurent when the financial mind of the company compensated perfectly the no-limits attitude of the designers.
Now it’s the clash of titans era when the CEO is in constant conflict with the designers, when the merchandising doesn’t work in-sync with the design and when everybody wants to be a creative director.
Slimane (which style I admit is not my favorite nor in my top ten) is a very well known phenomenon who has been employed to revamp a brand that no other in the world could have done so perfectly.
That’s why I deeply disagree with Vanessa Friedman last article.
In our era the designers are created by the system that employs them to grow the business as fast as possible, accepting diva-like attitudes and whatever tantrum they make, until the boiling point is reached and the need of a star designer suddenly disappears, merchandising take the reins and the CEO can finally decide everything about the collections with the support of a lesser known, young, upcoming designer.
If a critical word has to be said is not against a designer but towards an unbalanced fashion industry that creates and employs these “Frankenstein” only to drop them when they become unmanageable.
At the end, if the children are spoilt, whose fault is?
Susanna Nicoletti is a Senior Marketing and Communication professional and Advisor in the Luxury and Fashion Industry