Hedi Slimane Fashion Prospective and Natural Selection

Thierry Mugler © Richard Burbridge

Republished and Re-Edited

You might have read the interview of Hedi Slimane by Dirk Standen titled “The Future of Fashion” posted on www.style.com from a few months ago where he shares his vision on the Future of Fashion. Hedi Slimane has a very interesting perspective on the fashion industry. A thought came to me and that was did he become conscious of this radical change  and paradigm shift since leaving Dior Homme or was he aware of this change but felt incapable of sharing is view point while in the center of the storm? Now that he is no longer associated with Luxury Holding Group, his shackles have been removed.

This is the first time I have seen a world renowned fashion designer and fashion photographer with such a high profile sharing his views on how the Internet and social networking have revolutionized irreversibly the industry of fashion, as well as the fashion media business. It is also interesting to note that he believed that this change is not only a good thing but is necessary.

How do you think technology—tweeting, blogging, social media, etc…—has affected fashion? For better or worse? It has affected different aspects of fashion tremendously. From commentary to fashion design, communication, and distribution. The fashion Internet community is like a global digital agora tweeting passions and opinions. Anyone knows better, and each one is a self-made critic. This is a fascinating idea, as I always favoured amateurism (”the one that loves”) over professionalism, attraction over experience. It obliges anyone in the industry to think in a fresher way. Of course, it is hard to say if any “authority,” someone like Suzy Menkes, might one day come out and use digital means to lead with integrity, enough background, outside of any conflict of interest. On a design perspective, it has allowed any young designer or indie brand to get an instant audience, if used with wit and invention. I am not quite sure of the future of retail as we know it. This is a truly important thing, maybe the most important one, as it might already mean there is nothing standing between the design and an audience/consumer. Finally, the better and the worse have always been part of fashion, with the Internet only magnifying it and creating a joyful and noisy digital chaos. The bottom line is that any note can create music. It is only a matter of taste.

The worst, the best and the non-significant have always co-existed prior to the existence of social media. This new tool has allowed and has led to its own self perpetuating media: reviewing, critiquing, proposing, promoting within its own community confines. As a result of this new paradigm, the notoriety and the success will come to those who are not only creative, but those who can understand this new model and interact with the public. It is the democratization model that has become accessible to all that the industry will have to come grips with. The natural selection is again what will determine the success or failure of any product.

You photograph for magazines, but you also have a strong presence on the Internet with your Web site. Do you see a difference between the two mediums in terms of the presentation of your work? They complete each other. The Internet is about immediacy. Besides, I also operate my Web site directly, as I can decide if I want to post a story or reportage every day or every month. I also generally have a more complete edit on my Web site, after publication. That said, I do love the strict frame of magazines, and to tell a story in an edit of ten or 12 pages, or to sum it up in a cover. It is a discipline.

Can you envision a day when digital media will replace magazines? I totally do, and I don’t see it as a bad thing. You don’t fight but embrace a natural evolution, really, and try to figure out how it would reveal new creative fields within global access, and multimedia features. The Web site magazine will come way before the print version in the next decade. I don’t see any way around it, really. With the rise of the Internet, fashion did become part of the global entertainment industry in the last ten years, and will follow the digital evolution of the music or film industry. Besides, immediacy is better than old news. The “manufacturing” process of a magazine is far too long for this world, for the definition and idea that fashion is about “right now.” I guess it is more about “right now” now than ever before. That said, fashion magazines, glossy magazines still use their Web sites for daily news and information only. I trust it might be interesting to invest strongly in art direction, besides hiring top editors, top photographers, and top models, which is hardly enough for Internet pages. Quite certainly, the Web sites of the magazines will have to move away from the “blog” format and create an inspiring, tight template for their photo productions or editorial content, a Web site that has the [same feeling of] luxury and glamour as flipping through a heavy glossy magazine. It is interesting to think how someone like Alexey Brodovitch would have investigated this medium to create typography and layouts in motion. It is now an open field for a new generation of editors in chief and art directors. I hear one of the reasons for the lack of investment is advertising, although I trust advertising would follow immediately, if provided a reassuring image template for their costly ads. I finally believe the printed magazine will then become a collector’s item, and hopefully a reference to be kept preciously. Therefore, the commercial issues of advertising credits might move toward the Internet, [while] the most inspiring fashion stories could become exclusive to the printed collectible version.

An organizational and attitudinal change from the current printed fashion books to Web Sites is inevitable. And I share Hedi Slimane’s vision of having printed issues that are perhaps kept as collectors items, however, a shift of advertising budgets to the Web is inevitable. As a result of the drop in audience, and diminishing advertising revenues, costly glossy fashion books are having greater difficulty  paying for photo productions (top photographers, super models, hair, make up, stylist, studio, location…). If those collectors fashion books cannot afford those creative and unique photo productions any longer,  it will be the demise of them, as it is their raison d’être.

I see two possible outcomes:

  • A buy out of the “collector fashion press” by Internet Groups who will use them as a high end display tool, a “Haute Couture laboratory” so to speak,  which will be financed via the profitability of the company’s overall Internet activity.
  • For the “Indie collector fashion press”, I see  financing by a selected unique advertiser who will sponsor each issue. However, it is problematic to maintain a high level of creative freedom when an advertiser holds the purse strings.

Some people are questioning whether, in an era when information is disseminated so quickly, fashion shows still matter. As someone who has been both a participant and observer, do you think fashion shows are still an important and effective method of presentation? I understand the options, but there is something else besides information. Fashion somehow, for me, is purely and happily irrational. I like the ritual, the liturgy of a well-crafted, emotional fashion show. I will never be jaded with this side of fashion. The “catwalk” is pure anthropology, something like an esoteric encrypted parade. It can totally be replaced but it will be missed. Archaisms do have some reassuring charms, unless the Internet is used creatively, and in a poetic way. The problem is also the number of brands that insist, for vanity or desperation and beyond common sense, to squeeze into the endless fashion weeks of the world for the wrong reasons. Some of them would benefit from different methods to present their collections.

Can you envisage a different method of presentation than a fashion show? Perhaps involving video or photography? Of course, anything can be done, really, and the Internet technically allows any possible medium. This also means you can design anywhere. It is an interesting idea, no matter where and how. “Equality” could come with a random Web address, although sadly some www. addresses are more equal than others.

Between menswear and womenswear, resort, pre-fall, and ready-to-wear, some designers are designing eight or more collections a year. Is it possible for a designer to be creative under those circumstances? Designers end up needing a full-blast studio for this sort of thing, which is totally absurd. I also don’t understand what the hell people do with all those clothes. Less would be better, and shorter collections. Again, e-commerce might change this costly and overwhelming fashion avalanche.

Three of the strongest fashion design talents—Hedi Slimane, Helmut Lang, Martin Margiela—are currently pursuing other interests. Is that a coincidence or does it say something about the current state of the system? I cannot really speak for them. I guess we all have enough time to experiment with different things. That said, fashion, what you call the system, has become quite used and abused with conflicts of interest. The advertising game between the media and fashion houses might have gone too far. The meltdown did not help, to say the least. As far as design is concerned, scaling down would help a lot. The global economy meant partnerships, and partnerships in the last decade came with some risks. But there is something ironic, an absurd ending, a justice after all.

Is the commercial pressure on designers today too great? I don’t know about this. I am concerned about the relevance of strategy. Selling is a positive thing. Of course, the overhead of many global houses is so huge that the pressure is great. I don’t mind the pressure at all; it is stimulating. I mind the lack of a long-term vision, and the lack of sense. It has to make sense, no matter the size of a fashion house.

Hedi Slimane self portrait © Hedi Slimane

The evolution of the Fashion industry has opened up new opportunities for young designers to show  off their collections without the humongous cost and ritualistic efforts of  producing a fashion show. This new paradigm however, implies the need for creative and original approaches in their communications strategy. Their ultimate goal is to differentiate themselves from their competition in using the tools provided to them in social media. Young and independent designers have a great future in promoting and distributing their brand through e-boutiques. They may be picked up later by the traditional fashion press but it will no longer be essential to them, as viable and powerful alternatives are available that can offset the dependence on classic media solutions.

There is also a revolution brewing in the established Fashion Houses. The current job titles of Marketing, Advertising, Communication, Press Attachés and Sales are dramatically changing as a multitude of brand new type of client is surfacing. Those presently holding the reigns either they do not see it or do not want to see it (“it” being the writing on the proverbial wall). Perhaps they fear for their own position and do not know how to handle or adapt to the change nor deal with the inevitable tsunami. Press Attachés can no longer simply limit their jobs to nurturing close relationships to the editors in chief of influential fashion magazines to secure editorial feedback and their own position. They must develop their visibility on the net. The  classic “one and one” based relationship is evolving in to the “many to many “relationship dynamic. A new position needs to be developed within their organization: The Community Manager, to communicate within the social media environment. For the Classic fashion houses who are used to controlling every single word and image coming out of them, it is indeed a Rude Awakening!

Will they continue living in glass houses? Or will they take the plunge? We shall see what we shall see…

What effect do you think the rise of fast fashion has had on consumers and on high fashion? The issue was pretty much when at the beginning of the 2000’s high fashion started to embrace (no question they had to) globalization. High fashion started to offer access to luxury and creativity. In a way it was dangerously closing the gap with fast fashion, which was incredibly effective in mimicking the style and standards (stores, merchandising, ad campaigns) of high fashion. It is mathematical. More means less rarity and less quality. This leads to the visual chaos of not exactly knowing what is what, if you forget your contact lenses and can’t read the label.

Would you have any interest in collaborating with a fast-fashion retailer? I have obviously had a few discussions, like any of us, but I don’t really like the “capsule” collection trick, which I won’t do. There is something terribly cheap about it. This validation is somehow dodgy, since fast fashion, with few exceptions, is quietly ripping off all it can, including brands that are too small to defend themselves. I would not mind and would be open to some evolution of fast retail, if it was aiming for an original design and a long-term commitment. It would become something else. Something like Apple computers, for instance, where design meets a wide audience through innovation and sense. In the future, fast-fashion retailers might change their philosophy toward real efforts to create a world of their own. One can only hope.

How can or should luxury fashion stand out from fast fashion? They have a duty to stay at the top of the game creatively and keep a distinctive voice. Luxury houses and brands are meant to be exceptional by any means and not settle for the average. They cannot run the precise wrong race, but rather [should] stick to a strict and dignified etiquette for their fashion developments, assets, and branding. Just like many Parisians, I was sad and surprised to see the historical and mythical store of Yves Saint Laurent, Place Saint-Sulpice, go. I might not have followed some episodes of the “hows and whys,” being an outsider, but walking across Place Saint-Sulpice one day, I saw a fast retailer instead. In general, luxury fashion houses are like royalty. They live to preserve and cherish the crown jewels and the symbols of their divine power, no matter what it takes. Luxury brands did also become monuments, because of the public affection and care. In other prosaic words, it might be all about tightening up long-term strategies in order to keep the respect, influence, and credibility.

What excites you about the future, personally or in terms of fashion in general? Everything, really. It is a fantastic time—difficult, of course, to some degree for many, because it is truly a revolution, led by the Internet, a digital revolution. Distribution and communication are in an ongoing fast-forward mutation. There is also a generation gap, which creates an acceleration of the treadmill for some. Not everyone is accustomed to this Internet world, which is understandable. It is just a different landscape, and as much as one might pretend to keep up, it is a tough one to follow: the freeway toward the musical chairs. I trust fashion will invent new models, shortcuts, somewhere in between luxury (analog) and fast retail (digital). In front of a beyond-informed audience and new generations being born with a wireless processor instead of a brain, it will be about having clear commitments and keeping an original voice no matter the scope and scale of fashion developments.

One more: Is there anything else you would like to say about the “future of fashion” that I neglected to ask?
Oh, well, at the end of the day, the future is always the same story, minus the digital revolution and its collaterals. The future has to be bright. It is the nature of fashion to evolve, only this time it might evolve more than ever, with seat belts optional.

Benjamin Kanarek of www.benjaminkanarekblog.com posted this comment on Style.com. He compares Fashion to what has been happening to the Music Industry.

“As someone in the Fashion Industry as well as a Pop-Rock composer in the music industry, I can see some rather stark comparisons between what has happened in the Music Industry and what is happening in the Fashion Biz. In fact it is happening everywhere. The Democratization of Creativity. When I used to do a Fashion shoot, the approach was so much more insular and Aristocratic so to speak, but in today’s paradigm, you can create your own rules as well as develop your own following, without the ritualistic acceptance of “THE FASHION POLICE”. The Dinosaurs are starting to really feel the pinch, thus one of he reason’s for this sites existence. The huge record companies are just a shell of their past accomplishments, with very little substance left of their original “raison d’être”. In fact, I consider  them as a kind of huge Marketing company, picking up artist’s with an established following. Today in most cases the artists come completely packaged with a final product & video. All the record label has to do is get off their somewhat bloated asses and promote them. The Record labels  (and this will not come as a surprise to you) are quite parasitic indeed!  I must  also add that  I believe this is a good thing. ‘Better late than never’. None the less Hedi makes some very compelling points, that highlight the fact that, “The Times They are a Changin””. Benjamin Kanarek

Read the entire Hedi Slimane’s interview by Dirk Standen posted on www.style.com

About Frederique Renaut
Born in Paris, France, Fashion & Beauty Director for benjaminkanarekblog.com Frédérique Renaut wears 2 hats: 1/ Consultant in Communication for the Luxury Industry specialized in International Communication, Media & Advertising, 2/ Creative Direction, Video Direction for Fashion and Beauty shoots for publications like VOGUE & Harper's BAZAAR. She has also worked as an International Executive Manager for major cosmetics brands (Jean-Paul Gaultier, Issey Miyake and Narciso Rodriguez fragrances) and Couture Houses (Yves Saint Laurent, Louis Féraud & Givenchy by Alexander McQueen).