Hedi Slimane is not known for his sense of humor. His models never smile and you can’t see their eyes, because they’re usually behind sunglasses. They shove their hands in their pockets when they walk, strutting in sync with the rock and roll soundtrack. They’re not funny; they’re cool.
But for Slimane’s second menswear collection at Celine, presented on Sunday night in Paris, the designer’s hyper-specific sense of style seemed to crossover into self-awareness and maybe even self-mockery. Straw tote bags and colorful (!) T-shirts were covered in cheeky phrases like “My own worst enemy,” and “I have nostalgia for things I have probably never known.” They were borrowed from the artist David Kramer, whose work is often inspired by lifestyle advertisements from the 1970s.
Kramer was shocked to get an email from Celine about a collaboration — he thought it was spam — but he and Slimane actually have a lot in common. Since starting at Celine, Slimane has mined the house’s archives, especially those from the ’70s, to evoke a sense of nostalgia that somehow feels new. Now in his second season, he seems more comfortable. The spring 2020 menswear show was his most playful and casual to date, with color, sequins, and even overalls. Maybe Slimane does have a sense of humor after all. Below, a conversation with Kramer, who helped bring it out.
How did this collaboration come about? Were you familiar with the work of Hedi Slimane before?
I must admit when I got the original email saying that Hedi was interested in collaborating, I thought it was kind of a joke — perhaps even some kind of internet scam! Of course, I had heard of Celine and Hedi is such a legend.
Is this your first fashion collaboration? If yes, why now?
Well, no. I have never done a fashion collaboration before but I have made T-shirts, hats, and pins using my paintings as the inspiration. Usually when I do a gallery show I like to have some kind of performative experience for the viewer. Either they wear T-shirts or sit on furniture that is custom made for the show or drink wine or beers which I made the labels for … But this experience is on a whole other level.
Your art is inspired by images from the past; Hedi Slimane is mining the history of Celine. At what point in time do you meet? How does your vision of nostalgia overlap?
I am always interested in nostalgia, but mostly I am looking back as if trying to find what I missed out on. I definitely was excited that Hedi and I both seem to share a respect for history, but neither of us seemed stuck in the past.
Why did you pick these works in particular? How do they translate to 2019? To a fashion runway?
I showed Hedi a large collection of images of my work and we quickly narrowed the field down to these. He never looked back. I am confident this body of work is perfect in tone and style for right now. Hedi knows exactly what he is doing.
The way you combine images and text is well-suited for our meme-saturated age. Why do you think customers crave ironic statements on clothing right now?
I like to think I was making handmade memes back in the analog days. Yes, my work seems to be perfect for Instagram, but really by accident. I’ve always been interested in humor and satire and self-deprecating jokes. I think the jokes have always had a universal quality which had always made my work so popular at art fairs. Why wouldn’t people crave them on shirts and bags?
Do you think your works bring a sense of humor to the collection? Melancholy? What emotions?
I really can’t get over how brave Hedi is. I mean taking my self-deprecating one-liners and putting them on clothing seems like the opposite of what I would think of for the fashion world. But here we are, and it looks great.
If you had to review the collection with a single phrase, what would it be? Your impression of menswear right now?
Brilliant. That’s the one word that comes to mind.
What’s the worst phrase you’ve seen on a piece of clothing recently?
I saw a 13-year-old kid in Brooklyn wearing a Nike knockoff T-shirt that said, “Just do me.” I almost spit out my coffee on the subway platform.
What piece from the collection would you wear yourself?
Any of them! I especially love the sneakers. I tend to be pretty utilitarian in my fashion choices up til now. I am definitely going to start to step up my game!