Posted by Melanie Rickey, Fashion Editor at Large
Ever since Hedi Slimane re-joined the worshipful Yves Saint Laurent company last year he has been stamping his pointy black-booted feet all over the traditional conventions of the fashion industry, and in particular its media.
Only last night at his comeback menswear show at YSL (he previously designed YSL menswear from 1996-2000) he broke unwritten catwalk rule number one. Namely: Do Not Hire Underweight, Anorexic Looking Men (or Women) as Models.
This guy needs to eat (photo: style.com)
Back in the old days before social media a very very skinny, ill-looking male model, such as the one above, would cause raised eyebrows amongst those actually present at the show, and not much else. Last night this boy caused raised eyebrows in the catwalk theatre and beyond. Simon Chilvers of the Guardian said Slimane's skinny musician boys looked "dated" compared to the way the majority of brands including Prada and Margiela are using male models today. "When you start to see clothes on a wider variety of male bodies," says Chilvers, "you cannot help but hone in on models that are particularly thin, such as some of those boys in the Saint Laurent show last night." Tim Blanks even mentioned the elephant in the room in his Style.com review saying "You don't even want to go there with the skinny." But it was left to writer and former LOVE editor Isaac Lock to say what everyone was thinking, and it went viral.
Lock (@IsaacJLock) highlighted the above photo of this emaciated boy on his Twitter feed last night asking the question: "This is aspirational, right?" which prompted hundreds of Retweets. The former LOVE magazine editor also Tweeted "Hedi's Home for Hungry Boys. Fashion, you're pretty fucked up sometimes." Which fairly summed up the thoughts of everyone who put their twopence worth in overnight on social media. Yes, fashion can be fucked up, yet we all know Hedi Slimane is an agent provocateur. He has always used skinny models. But this skinny?? Could he be using fashion's biggest taboo to gain press coverage? By lunchtime the photo had prompted stories on the New Statesman and Daily Mail websites among others and interested parties knew Hedi Slimane was back at YSL menswear causing a commotion.
When I emailed Isaac Lock this afternoon to ask him why he felt strongly enough to publish his thoughts on Twitter he sent me the following. What Isaac has to say strikes at the heart of the matter of why social responsibility remains relevant in fashion.
"I reacted so strongly because I think there’s an unhealthy silence around men’s body issues both in and out of the fashion industry. Women, of course, are subjected to extreme body pressures all the time, but there is, at least, an ongoing conversation in the media about it. That’s less the case when it comes to men and it can be embarrassing for a lot of men to talk about the way they feel about their bodies. The way the fashion industry often works is to pile shame on people then invite them to buy their way out of it. For men, or boys, since with this show we really are talking about boys, to say that an image or an ideal is shame inducing can be very difficult - it opens the door to more shame - that they’re not manly enough, they’re not tough enough, they’re not cool enough to just get on with it like the boys in the show.
"More than any other men’s designer, Hedi Slimane trades in hype. He trades in saying, "This is it, this is the coolest, most relevant idea there is." When he’s saying that, and then presenting that idea on a series of boys who have a body that it’s unhealthy for the majority of the male population to aspire to I think it’s important to say ‘Hey, what the fuck is up with you? Are you ok?'
"In the years between Hedi Slimane’s time at Dior and his time now at YSL there’s been a change which means there are a lot of teenage consumers of fashion. They don’t consume it by buying it, though, they consume it in image form. They obsessively gather images of shows and shoots on their Tumblrs and send them around. They respond to fashion in the way that some of their peers might respond to music or sport. These are kids sitting at home in their bedrooms pawing over the internet probably dreaming, like a lot of us did, about escaping to a new, metropolitan, exciting life. They are kids who are at a vulnerable age and whose stock in trade is trying to work out what they can do to realise their fantasies. For those kids who are interested in fashion, something like the Saint Laurent show must seem like the epitome of excitement and escape. The thing is, those kids, like the kids of the Dior era can’t buy the clothes. They can, however, emulate the bodies the clothes are shown on. I don’t think Slimane can ignore his teenage fans and say it’s not intended for them because, by appropriating the language of youth culture to sell stuff, he’s talking right to them, and what’s he’s saying is hollow, disempowering, crap."