Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Slimane: Talents for Photography

WHEN Hedi Slimane stepped down as artistic director at Dior Homme in 2007, Fashion Wire Daily summed up his tenure this way: “Slimane leaves Dior with the well-earned reputation as the single most influential men’s designer this century, the most copied of his peers and the only one to achieve the status of a rock star.”
The comparison was apt, given Mr. Slimane’s celebrity and his role in styling the likes of Mick Jagger, David Bowie and Jack White, and the outsize reputation he garnered in his relatively brief life as a fashion designer, starting at Yves Saint Laurent in 1996, when he was just 28, and then at Dior in 2000.
Few people leave their profession when they are at the top of the game. In fashion, perhaps only Tom Ford comes to mind. But even Mr. Ford — after a stint in Hollywood that culminated in his direction of the Oscar-nominated “A Single Man” — came back into the fold and is now designing again.
But Mr. Slimane seems to have left fashion behind with nary a second thought, reinventing himself as a photographer in the past few years, one who has produced an array of strikingly intimate portraits, nearly all of them black and white, of some of the most famous faces in contemporary culture: Amy Winehouse, Lady Gaga, Brian Wilson, Gisele Bundchen, Robert De Niro and Kate Moss.

Never one to talk volubly about himself — interviews from when he was at Saint Laurent and Dior were infrequent, and now read as if they might have been slightly torturous for the young designer — Mr. Slimane has remained somewhat elusive in his new career. He regularly declines to talk to the press and consented to an interview only under the condition that it be conducted solely by e-mail.
His post fashion life has not gone entirely unnoticed, however. Most recently, Mr. Slimane’s photographs of an all-grown-up Frances Bean Cobain — the daughter of Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love — became an Internet sensation, bringing Mr. Slimane’s name back into the public domain.
Those portraits of Ms. Cobain — “It was about a simple testimony of her 18 years,” Mr. Slimane wrote in an e-mail — followed a series of well-received gallery shows in Europe and the release of a new book of Mr. Slimane’s photos, “Anthology of a Decade: 2000-2010.” And now there is the unveiling of an exhibition of his new work, “California Song,” which opens on Saturday at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art Pacific Design Center.
Taken together, they represent something of a coming-out party for Hedi Slimane, photographer.
Certainly, for Jeffrey Deitch, recently appointed the director of the Los Angeles museum, Mr. Slimane’s work is worthy of a major multimedia exhibition, which will include prints and projections and feature music by No Age, a Los Angeles band.
“I’ve always, from the beginning, thought that he was one of the most original artistic voices of his generation,” Mr. Deitch said in a telephone interview. “I’m fascinated with artists like Hedi, where there’s a vision of art that goes beyond one’s medium.”
As the name of the show suggests, Mr. Slimane, who is French, has found something of a muse in the state of California.
“It is just about alignments really, and everything falls into place right now,” he said about Los Angeles, which he has called home since last year. “Artists, museums, and galleries are much stronger. There is also the space for everyone, the distance to elaborate. It certainly had a big influence on me.”
When one looks at much of Mr. Slimane’s American work from the last few years, it is hard not to think of the Swiss photographer Robert Frank, the consummate European outsider looking in, identifying and reassigning to Americans their own lost mythology.
“It is almost about a utopia,” Mr. Slimane said of the show, adding: “I discovered Los Angeles in the late ’90s. The city was not at its best at the time, but I fell for it right away. There is something almost haunted about it, a vibrant mythology I find rather inspiring.”
Mr. Deitch said that in Mr. Slimane’s work there seemed to be no clear line between where photography ended and music, fashion or fine art began.
“One of the reasons why there’s such a connection between the photography and the clothing design is that his vision is sculptural,” Mr. Deitch said.
It is difficult to examine Mr. Slimane’s photo work separately from his reign atop the world of men’s fashion. In particular, the Dior years would define a very specific moment in his and pop culture’s conjoined histories. The black skinny jean, the skinny black tie, the short-waisted leather jacket or snug blazer: his work at Dior, where he created Dior Homme, is credited with helping bring men’s wear from the loose-fitting, slacker style of the 1990s into the postmillennial look of form-fitting, clean lines.
When Mr. Slimane left Dior amid well-publicized infighting with executives, published reports suggested he wanted to start his own label and possibly move into women’s fashion. Since then, however, the world of design is one he has not seemed particularly eager to rejoin.
“With fashion design, there was also always a risk at the time to lose the sense of the perspective, the discernment,” he said, adding: “It might have been perceived as an abrupt switch for others, but it felt like precisely the right moment for me, in 2007. I had already mainly defined my style, and could let it on its own for a while, see where it ends up, or survives in the streets.”
For Mr. Slimane, now 47, full immersion in photography was a return to an interest he pursued while growing up. As a student, he took classes in photography and studied political science, in hopes of becoming a reporter and photographer on international affairs.
Ultimately, he would switch his focus to art history. Fashion came next, which, like his photography today, exhibited an intense fixation on rock culture.
“Just like zillions of children, album covers educated and informed me, and certainly did I later transpose organically, rather than by intent, those principles both in fashion design and photography,” he said.
His photo work often portrays musicians at the fringes of fame or notoriety: up-and-coming artists whose bona fides lie primarily in the independent music scene. Others, perhaps, achieved widespread renown (or infamy), like Amy Winehouse or Pete Doherty, but seemed somehow to remain at the frayed, tragic edges of rock culture.

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