Rock to Runway
The Dark Rock Star Fantasy of Saint Laurent’s Hedi Slimane
When he’s not creating high fashion, YSL designer Hedi Slimane gets down and dirty in the music scene. A new exhibit showcases 15 years of his photography.
PARIS — For the previous exhibition at the Fondation Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent, the 16th arrondissement space was transformed into a colorful slice of Morocco, complete with chunky Berber bling and evocative sound clips for a show on the Berber Women of Morocco.
But for the foundation’s most recent exhibition, the venue could not feel more different in style. When he’s not working as the creative director for Saint Laurent, designer Hedi Slimane takes photographs of rock stars—both well known and members of the underground—that are now on display in Sonic, which runs until January 11.
Save for the clip of heels as visitors wander around the gallery, the venue is silent. There is no Lou Reed soundtrack playing, although the late musician’s face, looking as wrinkled as that of a Berber woman from the desert, adorns the show’s poster.
Slimane is the first designer from the house to show his work in the space, which opened in 2004. He has been obsessed with music since his childhood in Paris, and it infuses his work in fashion. So, when he was asked to do a show, Slimane decided it should be on the rock stars he has been photographing for the past 15 years. Some of the images are from his time in London and New York, but the majority were taken in Los Angeles, where he photographs the underground music scene since moving there in 2007.
Slimane told the The Wall Street Journal that everything for him begins with music, and, luckily, he describes Los Angeles as currently experiencing a music renaissance.
“There is also an idea of community that draws me, particularly in California today,” Slimane tells WSJ. “It is, of course, one of the main reasons for me to continue living here.”
The Sonic show setting feels strangely austere, with nothing but white-framed black-and-white photographs hung on white walls, some clustered in groups. There are no descriptions, just a flier handed out at the entrance with a brief overview of each piece.
The focus is on the art.
If there is an aesthetic to this collection of photos, it is one of disaffected rock stardom. Think close-up images of the battered faces of older rockers, like that of the Sex Pistols’ lead singer John “Rotten” Lydon taken in Los Angeles in 2010. Others include the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson and David Johansen of the New York Dolls, both posed for their respective shots, eyes gleaming like saddened heroes of the music world.
Or think disaffected pretty youth from California’s underground music scene. There are photos of what looks like a scruffy Californian kid in a T-shirt, taking a break from skateboarding. The subject is, in fact, Jeff Froth from the rock group Mecca.
The photos all portray a bit of rock star cliché, really, with images of musicians playing guitars, sitting on the boot of old cars (Rex Osterkamp of Rexx), or lounging in dark carpeted corridors (Liza Thorn of Starred, shot at the Gaylord Building).
Here, messy hairdos are in fashion, as with DIIV frontman Cole Smith’s blond locks that frame his deer eyes and give him the look of a disillusioned Barbie Doll. Limp hair is straggled across the face of another musician, Sam France, who poses in Westlake, California, his hand covered by an over-long sleeve. Clementine Creevy is shown with her blond rocker locks swaying across her face.
One cannot forget the ultimate poser item—the cigarette—that dangles from Keith Richards’ mouth, his worn face cast in luminous light contrasting with a black backdrop, his wrist and chest lit up beneath a dark shirt and cowboy necklace, like light suede adorning a dark design.
Wild-haired youths, American flags, old rock stars looking pensive and posing with wrinkles all bring to mind the feeling of the Dennis Hopper Lost Album photo exhibit on display at the Royal Academy of Arts in London, and the counterculture that Hopper puts on show there. Except Hopper’s subjects, like Paul Newman on the beach, look far more natural than Slimane’s, as if Hopper took a photo of the friend while hanging out.
In Sonic, the images that show the business of looking messy and a little druggy are all so stylized, serious, and concentrated. And California is made to look macabre in black and white, rather than dazzled in light, like in the empty pool shots and barren gardens.
But for people who want to see rock stars in all of their glory, Slimane’s photos will do. Who needs the work of fabulous fashion designers like YSL’s creative director when you can crawl out of bed looking as bedraggled as your fans might expect you to?
Few people have devoted themselves to photographing and cultivating relationships with rock stars like Hedi Slimane. Beyond shooting the music scene for over a decade, the designer has also published books like his 2005 work on Pete Doherty, London Birth of a Cult.
Slimane has also featured The Garden’s twin members Wyatt and Fletcher Shears, whose father was an Orange County musician, in his fashion campaigns, and he has worked with California musicians to create soundtracks for his shows, most recently the rock band Mystic Braves. And Slimane has worked with young musicians like Grimes and Seth Boggart from Hunx and His Punx to design everything from bags to shoes.
In short, Slimane captures the sweat and messiness used to create rocker style in all of its dark glory—old shirts, disheveled hair, a waistcoat paired with an unkempt shirt, accessories from ciggies to guitars, and black bangs paired with even blacker shades—in a way that is far wilder than the svelte interpretations and velvet jackets of music types found in his own fashion shows.
Sonic is open at the Fondation Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent in Paris through January 11, 2015.