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Hedi Slimane’s tenure at Saint Laurent has been nothing if not controversial. From the moment he took the creative reins at the storied French house in March 2012, his every action has been observed, discussed, dissected and debated.

Slimane’s supporters have lauded his efforts at modernizing the otherwise traditional label by infusing a more youthful, rock-tinged allure, as well as putting Los Angeles on the style map unlike ever before – something that ignited after the designer decided to relocate the brand from Paris to SoCal. His critics, however, continue to slander the designer’s efforts at “cheapening” the house by bringing music and youth subcultures into Yves Saint Laurent’s legacy, despite the fact that youth, counterculture movements and freedom were key components in Yves’ own work in the ‘60s.

But despite the polarized reactions, Slimane seems to be doing something right. Since joining Saint Laurent, the designer has been responsible for doubling the brand’s revenue, increasing sales by nearly 27% for the second quarter of 2015. In addition to accruing a massive celebrity following, an inescapable spot in the headlines and sizable amount of indie cred, Slimane has shaken up the industry unlike any other designer of our time (mirroring that of his SL predecessor, Yves).

Having departed the French house nearly two years ago, news broke last week confirming that the designer will be taking over at Céline in February, where he will oversee the launch of a new men’s line. In honor of his time at Saint Laurent, we look back at the many ways the designer changed the brand.

Bringing Back Rocker Chic

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Perhaps one of the most polarizing alterations Slimane has made during his tenure at the French house is his infusion of rock ‘n’ roll aesthetics. Ever fond of music and youth subcultures, the designer has been both lauded and berated for painting an edgier, younger and more accessible picture over the otherwise traditionally formal label – something Slimane had carried over from his time at Dior Homme.

Slimane once said, “…I would turn to my music heroes, and this was comforting. They looked the same and I wanted to do everything to be like them, and not hide myself in baggy clothes to avoid negative comments. David Bowie, Keith Richards, Mick Jagger, Mick Jones, Paul Weller, I felt connected to their allure, aesthetic and style.”

The designer’s penchant for all things rock ‘n’ roll would resonate in nearly all aspects of his work; from stocking his runways and campaigns with the indie “cool” kids he’d been photographing for his personal blog Diary, to his blaring underground catwalk soundtracks, to his continuous rehashing of subcultural trends (rockabilly biker jackets, grungy tattered knitwear, dazzling, glam rock-inspired prints and embellishments, etc).

Blurring the Gender Lines With Unisex Silhouettes

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Historically, Saint Laurent (formerly known as Yves Saint Laurent) is a house synonymous for its reinvention of women’s fashion. By altering menswear classics such as blazers and trouser suits into slim-tailored jackets and wider-cut pant legs, Yves has been credited with empowering females by placing them tête-à-tête against their male counterparts.

Slimane has also been regarded as a purveyor of gender fluidity in his designs. Echoing what Yves had done many years prior, Slimane’s period at Dior (2000-2007) saw a distinct merger between male and female silhouettes, characterized by vacuum-sealed trousers, waifish suits cut with high armholes and narrow sleeves and the occasional skinny tie. Similar to his transmission of rock-tinged aesthetics, the super-slim cuts that defined Slimane’s Dior would also seep their way into the new Saint Laurent of “Generation 2.0.”

Dropping the “Yves”

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After being appointed as creative director in 2012, Slimane swiftly kickstarted his rebranding of the storied French house by scandalously axing the label’s forename, Yves, and changing its font into something bolder and more modern.

After unsurprisingly igniting a media furor, the designer claimed that the brand’s rename was not only symbolic of the new chapter that would commence under his direction, but as an ode to Yves as well.

“Historically, Yves decided with Pierre in 1966 to name his revolutionary ready-to-wear ‘Saint Laurent Rive Gauche,'” Slimane said in an interview with Yahoo back in 2015. “It was for him a distinctive sign of modernity, and a drastic change from the Couture label…Rather than ‘dropping the Yves’ the restoration of a spirit of Couture was intended a few years down the line…With the House now completed, the two names exist as they always did historically, next to the monogram designed by the artist Cassandre.”

Relocating to Los Angeles

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After terminating his contract with Dior in 2007, Slimane relocated to Los Angeles to focus on music and photography, affiliating himself with the city’s local art and music scenesters. The move would have a profound impact on the designer, who, upon taking the reins at Saint Laurent, would go on to move the French house far from its Parisian ateliers to the sunny SoCal city.

“The city of Los Angeles was for me a perfect observatory of popular culture and inspiring subcultures,” Slimane told Yahoo. “The influence of California is now at so many levels besides the entertainment industry.” This action would be a watershed moment for the fashion industry, putting the City of Angels on the style map like never before.

Reintroducing Couture

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In the summer of 2015, Slimane announced that he would be relaunching Yves Saint Laurent Couture after the house parted ways with the division 10 years prior. The designer revived the collection in a newly constructed couture salon housed in a historic Parisian townhouse on the Left Bank, located at 24 Rue de l’Université. Each piece was decided upon on a case by case basis and included a numbered silk ivory label which was recorded in the “Monogram House Couture book held by the premier d’atelier flou.”

Slimane was not only designing the line, but he carefully plucked out which lucky glitterati would be worthy enough to wear his custom creations.

Words by Nico Amarca
Fashion Editor, North America
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