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What Hedi Slimane’s Legacy Means for People of Color

In early April of this year, Hedi Slimane announced his departure from the title of Yves Saint Laurent’s creative director, resigning after a four-year creative control of the Paris-based fashion house. Hedi Slimane’s tenure at the Paris fashion house was ambitious. The press hailed his creative direction and complete rebranding of the company as monumental; in sync with his transformation of the brand’s aesthetic, he doubled the brand’s sales and polished its financial revenue. A large part of the commotion associated with his departure was directly associated with the responsibility that would be dumped onto his successor’s shoulders. Slimane would be a tough act to follow, and Saint Laurent’s syndicate would be difficult to rewire.

Heroin chic and Slimane’s rebranding of Saint Laurent are virtually synonymous; Slimane had a knack of making models and cover-stars out of manic-pixie, stick-legged Burger musicians (The Garden twins, Julia Cumming, Clementine Creevy, Cole and Max Becker), making sure that those who represent his brand appear to be extras from a Girls video shoot (it’s no wonder Christopher Owens starred in a campaign) or a materialization of Male Model Or Dude In An Indie Band?. Slimane carefully culminated his aesthetic and put the brand’s image to the forefront of its reputation, managing to revive the prestige of the company. Slimane’s name soon became ubiquitous and informally notorious in the California music scene; making the decision to refound the company’s roots in California instead of Paris, Slimane’s usage of the same timeworn, trite image of typical Saint Laurent models became slightly risible (“For someone who claims to be “documenting” the local scene, little of what is seen on Slimane’s website is reflective of the actual scene itself. It’s as though our diverse and vibrant community has been crammed through an Instagram filter that renders us all fitter, thinner, whiter.”)

Slimane’s Saint Laurent, albeit characterized by lithe, pseudo-gothic subjects and muses, was incredibly whitewashed. It is not necessarily well-disclosed that a lack of diversity is a huge issue in modern, corporate fashion industries, but subsequent to its postwar rise in popularity, Yves Saint Laurent (the man and the company) historically championed for more diverse casting. Amid the cutthroat, microaggressional race issues that combated against the fashion industry in the late 60’s and 70’s, Saint Laurent, a pioneer for models of color, exhibited and featured the images of Iman and Rebecca Ayoko in campaigns that broke down barriers and changed the way industries looked at models of color.

As noted by industry professionals, Saint Laurent’s recent campaigns (extending beyond Slimane’s tenure) stray away from diversity; a quick “YSL+runway” Google search regurgitates the same, trite image—pale, angular white models with hollow, androgynous features and gaunt limbs. Slimane’s Saint Laurent doesn’t exploit the image of black models—he neglects to recognize or even employ them, choosing to further whitewash the brand and conceal their intrinsic role in the legacy of Saint Laurent. It is one thing to showcase little representation in your shows, but it is another thing to copy and paste every single person on the runway.

Hedi Slimane’s departure from the fashion house is not a necessary guarantee of reinvention; although Saint Laurent has undergone creative direction by Anthony Vaccarello prior to Slimane’s withdrawal, there does not seem to be progression in the diversification of Saint Laurent. Aside from a slight sexualization of the brand, there does not appear to be a great stride in diversification of those cast to represent it.

Saint Laurent does not need a repeat of the same black and white, pseudo-gothic aesthetic that Slimane dug six feet underground. The Saint Laurent brand deserves a restoration of the elegance and untouchability it once attained at the height of its legacy, when women of color frequented the runway and donned the Saint Laurent label with ingenuity.


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