How many lives does a fashion designer have? As many as he wants, if his name is Mr Hedi Slimane. Consider his careers so far: menswear designer - and we will come back to that. Photographer. Champion of young musicians. Leader of cool for any one under 30 who, if wishing to be fashionable, cannot avoid being a Slimane Guy. The man whose clothes are still a major influence on men's fashion more than four years since he stopped designing. And now, the design director of Yves Saint Laurent; a return to the company where his first serious design steps were taken - but now with responsibility for womenswear, too.
In all, if one word to describe Mr Slimane's approach were required it would have to be "uncompromising". We could add "bold". "Determined". And "arrogant". But it all comes softly wrapped in the gentle charm of a Disney fawn, with the sideways cocked head of an inquisitive robin redbreast. Mr Slimane is as softly spoken as a novice in the priesthood and as diffident as a boy on his first day in a new school but the real secret to his success is that he has total integrity - and an undying loyalty to his own principles and beliefs. He is definitely not the man to budge from what must be called his life philosophy, for anyone or anything. And, just like Ms Coco Chanel, whose principles and determination he shares, he has the ability to persuade that his look is the only look for the über cool.
No wonder so many wish to be like him, listening to his sort of music, in his sort of club and wearing his sort of clothes. You feel he could create a Slimane cult, a boy's town where his beliefs and principles, and the clothes they inspire, would have guys queuing up.
In 1996 when Mr Pierre Bergé appointed Mr Slimane to take charge of YSL menswear it was axiomatic that he would take on the Italians and the French in a battle over who would create the modern man: wafer-thin lads who looked as if they had not eaten for weeks wearing skinny, ill-fitting jackets - ill-fitting until you realised that just like the Japanese before him in their revolution, Mr Slimane had created a new proportion never seen before on a menswear runway (reminiscent of Messrs Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, and 1920s Vaudeville performers); a shape engineered with the perfection and skill of an Yves Saint Laurent Le Smoking of years before, but with every element undermined and recast for the 1990s. And, paradoxically, these clothes that looked so poor and reminded many of the hand-me-down indignity of wearing clothes the wrong size, were precisely what young men of fashion were looking for to empower them in a totally new way. An essentially northern European way. Guys who had never been terribly sure about how well the high-glamour suits and expensively thick cashmere seen on the other runways actually fitted into their lives were absolutely sure of what Mr Slimane was offering. And they wanted it. And the life that went with it. And so did the world's most elegant women, for who Mr Slimane made the perfect modern suit shape.
It was all about cool. As was Mr Slimane. He was like an oracle, bringing his own loves to the fore and making us think about a new cultural geography. He did not especially rate New York or Milan. He preferred Berlin and London. Brussels and Amsterdam. And he photographed non-stop in them all. On the streets. In the clubs. In improvised studios. On rough derelict wharfs and abandoned docks. Suddenly, there was not a style or lifestyle magazine without its fashion shoot on a boy so skinny his bones stood out but looking incredibly hard and self-possessed, surrounded by beaten up old cars, coils of wire ropes, fires in tin drums and ambivalent figures lurking menacingly in the shadows of doorways, looking on. It was the perfect fantasy for the young urban fashionista just emerging and wanting a look that reflected what he and his world were about.
What has Yves Saint Laurent the right to expect from Mr Slimane at the helm? We can be sure it will be radical, uncompromising and unavoidable
The books (virtually catalogues of style in themselves) that came popping out after he had left both YSL and Dior (where he went after YSL, leaving in 2007) were collections of his photographs, named after the cities that had inspired them: Paris, where he was born in 1968, with an Italian mother and a Tunisian father; Berlin, which he was instrumental in bringing into the orbit of the cool; London, where he hung with Mr Pete Doherty and The Paddingtons; and LA, where the influences inevitably included Mr Kurt Cobain and Ms Courtney Love. But perhaps the most influential creation of all has been the diary blogs of photographs of Mr Slimane's choice of people including Arctic Monkeys, Ms Amy Winehouse, Mr Miles Kane and a whole range of young movers in the music world. They have reached millions.
So what has Yves Saint Laurent the right to expect from Mr Slimane at the helm? We can be sure it will be radical, uncompromising and unavoidable. Like everything else about him, whatever he produces will not be open to negotiation or compromise. This could be very exciting indeed.