Like Feeding Cats
High fashion is one of art's most esoteric form, and thus, it's no wonder that Hedi Slimane got tired of it. As the head of menswear for Dior Homme, Slimane's signature look—slim boys in slim pants with even skinnier suspenders—defined a particular moment. Pete Doherty was Slimane's poster boy and Slimane's designs seemed to capture the essence of a generation beset with the excess of having everything and the want of knowing it all adds up to nothing. In 2007, Slimane left Dior and as of yet, has not returned to fashion, instead choosing to focus on a variety of other projects, primarily photographic.
If many fashion designers boast of taking inspiration from the streets, Slimane had no need to make such claims, as he was the streets. With his photography, it's only become more obvious that, at 41, Slimane is still rolling with the homies—defining youth culture from within, rather than peering down from the balcony and trying to figure out what the kids are doing down there.
Slimane maintains his own MySpace page, and posts many of his photographs on his website. He has shot Kate Moss, Lara Stone and Lindsay Lohan, but his favorite subjects remain unknown teenagers. "He is constantly interested in new movements, new music, youth culture. He is inspired by what's going on around him," says Nichola Formichetti, Dazed and Confused fashion editor and a frequent Slimane collaborator. When Slimane started at Dior, he had 200 speakers installed into the atelier's ceiling. This year, he wandered the fields of Coachella with his camera, and it's a safe bet that most—natch, all—of the kids he photographed hadn't a fucking clue who was asking to take their picture, but that they just liked him. "There is a strong connection between Hedi and his subjects," Formichetti says, "This is why his photographs really capture the soul of the model and the essence of their character."
Slimane is a renowned perfectionist, but admittedly drawn to imperfection in others, and this is why his work is so representative of what is happening here, now. He proves it is possible to be one of the most successful artists in the world, yet still be trying to figure it all out.
At what point in your career did you become more interested in photography than fashion?
It is actually the other way around. I started to get into fashion much later, as a teenager, as an extension to photography. Then you start to be known for something, and photography became overshadowed by my impromptu fashion career. Nevertheless, it was always my main field of expression, since age 11, really.
Is photography your main interest, or just your current focus?
I am interested by many different things, and photography creates the link between disciplines, from music to art or design. Fashion is of course still in my mind. I approach it now through editorial, but it can one day become a focus again with design.
What are you able to do as a photographer that you weren't able to do as a designer?
I certainly have more freedom for the subject, just because I was in a specific house, for whom I created a specific image. In photography, I always try to approach different subjects, subjects totally remote from my work, and transpose them to my own aesthetic or vision. It is like creating signs, or photographic conventions.
You have often "made" models. How is it different photographing someone who hasn't yet really started as opposed to shooting someone who is at the height of their career?
There is still a certain grace and emotion with someone who does not understand physicality, or talent. I always like what emerges, this is what touches me or attracts me, because it is still protected. I don't like things to get perfected or professional. But I also tend to take pictures of creative people in their maturity, after they went through fame, success, failures, etc. This becomes prominent in an image—life ahead as opposed to life gone.
Did you want to move on from fashion because you felt you had succeeded in that world and that it wasn't a challenge anymore?
Not precisely, but my style and principles in men's fashion became concrete on the street. It is interesting to see how it spreads globally, after I had to go through so many harsh comments, or critics, about my proportions and the men I was depicting. I thought it was time to take some distance, because it could still develop organically. It is now around, even if I don't design anymore. It became total appropriation.
Out of everything you do—fashion, photography, writing, film, design—what is the most difficult for you?
No, I don't do film. I did some commercials, but always, until now at least, i refused to do films. I find it overwhelming with people, and it is actually hard to get a script, or story I can relate to. But the strange thing is that it was the first
thing that was proposed to me when I left Dior.
How do you find your models?
By chance, accidently. I don't really search for beauty, but something else, a certain grace, some vulnerability. It really depends.
What is something that you find completely uninteresting?
Professionalism and maturity. I can relate to amateurism and immaturity only.
What is something you want to do but haven't yet?
Many things really, film, womenswear, music, anything, but mainly keeping my freedom, the way I always did.
How did you meet Jethro [Cave, Nick Cave's son and one of Slimane's most recent discoveries]?
Jethro showed up at the studio one day. It was in Paris. We had some clothes , because we had planned to do some pictures with Nicola Formichetti, randomly. I asked Jethro to stay a couple of hours. He was obviously pretty much down my alley in terms of allure and personality, the quintessential character I have depicted for 10 years at least, besides being some sort of post-Dior Homme character. So we did these pictures just for the website.
What would you consider yourself to be a fan of?
I am basically a fan of the girl or boy walking down the street, mostly when I can just observe them. It has a cinematic quality. Feels like someone is filming. Sadly, this is gone before it ever exists.
Do you understand teenagers?
I don't know about that. it is just a perception. I believe there is no understanding, but some sort of trust, awareness.
What do you think most defines "kids today"?
Sharpness. They were born with internet. They transform faster with digital knowledge. Besides this virtual memory, they are kids.
How will the kids that you photograph be remembered?
Eternal teenagers. This is what photography is about, and how it connects generations in youth, and connect all sort of youth and sub-cultures to each other. It is an archive of youth, certainly defined by the use and exchange of vibrations on the net (MySpace/Facebook/blogs, etc.).
As you've become more successful, is there anything that has become harder?
Well, when I left Dior, that was pretty clear—I am talking about loyalty, loyalty became harder, because anyone around me had some sort of agenda. It is like feeding cats: my success meant the success of so many others. I never have second thought about those things, I respond very firmly to this, and I got back my entire freedom, lucky enough to be so well surrounded.
Have you ever met anyone who you found intriguing, but who didn't photograph well?
No. Someone beautiful can photograph poorly. Someone intriguing will do a strong allusive photograph.
What makes a good subject?
Someone that doesn't cheat or lie.
What do you worry about?
I always worry about what makes sense. Does it make sense? Sometimes I wake up and I feel it is all missing the point. You never stop questioning what you are doing, and the reason why you are doing it. Meanwhile, I want to keep doing without thinking too much.
What makes you happy?
My close friends. When I see them, they always make me feel happy.
Why do you have a MySpace page?
Because someone had stolen the name, and there was this ambiguity.
Besides, when I left Dior Homme, I had to correct all the propaganda, and write directly what had happened, and why I decided to go. So the page stayed there. Then Facebook came over, with again, my name stolen, which we got back. No page this time, I never liked it, nothing to do visually.