After Fashion, Hedi Slimane Turns to Photography Full Time


The designer Hedi Slimane, who over four years blazed a best-selling, controversial and much-imitated trail through fashion as the creative director of Saint Laurent before leaving in March 2016 without explanation or apology, is re-emerging in the public eye this week, this time as a photographer.


That guise is nothing new for Mr. Slimane. Throughout his career — at Saint Laurent and before that at Dior, where Mr. Slimane designed men’s wear from 2000 to 2007 and elicited similar rapture — photography has been a constant obsession, running parallel to fashion but never beholden to it. Since leaving Saint Laurent, Mr. Slimane, 48, has devoted himself to it full time, batting back rumors that he is seeking backers for his own collection. He never intended to leave fashion, he says now, and did not specifically rule out a return. (It would not, however, be in his own name.)


This week, the first of a series of portfolios he photographed for V Magazine arrived, a “New York Diary,” shot mostly in Brooklyn, in photo studios including his own. Mr. Slimane took portraits of New York’s esoteric illuminati, both the well known (Thurston Moore, Francesco Clemente) and the underappreciated (the post-punkers James Chance and Lydia Lunch and up-and-comers like the Long Island-born brother rockers, the Lemon Twigs). For the occasion, Mr. Slimane, who generally declines to speak about himself or his work publicly, agreed to answer a few questions by email.


Since leaving Saint Laurent last year, you’ve devoted yourself to photography full time. Is it fair to say that photography interests you more than fashion at the moment? Why is that? What does it offer that design does not?


I started at 11 with black-and-white photography. It has always been a natural and defining part of my life, a personal, intimate process. I am deeply attached to each of the characters I depict, and to my photography archive.


I am equally fond of fashion, however it is a different process, more analytic, drawn by the semiotic of fashion and individuality, the sense of personal style rather than fashion (design) standards. I guess I grew up in clubs from age 15 (La Piscine, Le Palace, Les Bains in Paris, etc.), and concerts and night life defined fashion for me.


Your “New York Diary” for V brings together a great collection of artists — James Chance, Eileen Myles, Kembra Pfahler, many of them lesser known — to the general public. How do you choose your subjects? Do you see a connecting thread between them?


I came to New York the first time in 1989. Manhattan was like nowhere else: artistically vibrant, unapologetically radical. I loved the spirit of it, the freedom and gritty flamboyance of the streets and clubs of New York, the sense of uniqueness. Emerging musicians and artists, the Lemon Twigs for instance, do belong to this community, something like an “electric heritage.”


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