The Reason One Designer Is Obsessed With Super-Skinny Models

Photo: Rex Shutterstock.
Saint Laurent's creative director, Hedi Slimane, rarely talks, but he spoke to Yahoo Style for an exclusive, very extensive (nearly 10,000-word) story. There are lots of revealing tidbits from the man of mystery, including an explanation of sorts for Slimane’s oft-criticized predilection for über-thin models in his runway show.

It traces back to the designer's youth, and his own perpetually scrawny frame, he said. "I was precisely just like any of these guys I photograph, or that walk my shows. Jackets were always a little too big for me. Many in high school, or in my family, were attempting to make me feel I was half a man because I was lean, and not an athletic build," Slimane told Yahoo Style. "They were bullying me for some time, so that I might feel uncomfortable with myself, insinuating skinny was 'queer.'...I was eating quite much, doing a lot of sport, but when I was 15, 16, or 17, that was simply the way I was built."

Slimane's taste in gaunt models seems to stem from how he views thinness as an undesirable and socially awkward quality, based on his own experiences growing up rail-thin, and perhaps he's trying to subvert it with the models he chooses these days. The extremely slender look of any Saint Laurent show casting or campaign also relates a bit to the designer's long-term passion for music, especially the ultra-skinny rockers of the late '70s, when Slimane was coming of age. "I would turn to my music heroes, and this was comforting. They looked the same [as me] and I wanted to do everything to be like them, and not hide myself in baggy clothes to avoid negative comments," Slimane told Yahoo Style. "David Bowie, Keith Richards, Mick Jagger, Mick Jones, Paul Weller, I felt connected to their allure, aesthetic, and style."

But Slimane’s super-lanky models haven't been all that well-received. Though he specifically talks about his taste in male models, we'd assume that approach extends to the women he features as well. In an industry where models are already very thin, Slimane has been known for favoring the skinniest among them for his shows and campaigns.
Photo: Rex Shutterstock.
In June, a Spring 2015 Saint Laurent ad was banned by the U.K.'s Advertising Standards Authority for being "irresponsible" by showing super-twiggy model Kiki Willems sprawled on the floor; it called her "unhealthily underweight" because of her visible rib cage and incredibly bony gams. Slimane has also been criticized for his choices in male models, too; in 2013, a man on the Saint Laurent runway with a particularly gaunt look put Slimane in the hot seat for irresponsible casting.

In the piece, which was penned by W's Dirk Standen (Style.com's former editor-in-chief), Slimane also discusses how "the fashion industry has not caught up to the current pace of social media." In addition, Slimane addresses his extremely shy nature, and how he can come off as "remote or 'not accessible'": "However, I wouldn’t pretend to be someone I am not. I trust all designers are different. It is just about being sincere. Remote and in a quiet environment is closer to my nature," Slimane said. (Something else you might not know about the elusive designer is that he hoped to be a journalist during his younger years.) Slimane also discussed how fashion's creative talents also have to juggle business matters: "Designers or creative directors in the current fashion industry have one foot in the studio, the other in the store, and both eyes on the stock exchange."

Slimane himself has certainly made Saint Laurent more flush since arriving in 2012 — he's doubled revenues, and sales are up 27% during the second quarter of this year, Standen noted. He’s reviving the house’s Couture collections, and has people talking about the controversial changes he's made — for example, dropping "Yves" from the name, redesigning the logo, and markedly changing the house's look (sheer tights, glittery '70s glam, grungy flannel, etc.). Even if you can’t get behind Slimane’s affinity for seriously waifish models (not that you necessarily should), at least now there's a bit of context for how his runways look season after season.

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