Hedi Slimane’s Dedication to Rolls-Royce
“I drive a Rolls-Royce ’cause it’s good for my voice,” goes the T. Rex’s 1972 rock anthem “Children of the Revolution.” It is one of many cameos that the automotive zenith of 20th-century luxury makes in rock’n’roll history. The Rolls-Royce also appears in the diverse, hyper-stylized worlds of the Rolling Stones, Serge Gainsbourg, Tupac Shakur and the Beatles. John Lennon’s own 1965 matte-black Phantom V was notoriously repainted in psychedelic colors, which reportedly occasioned one elderly woman to take her umbrella to it, screaming, “You swine, how dare you do this to a Rolls-Royce?”
Hedi Slimane admits that it was the rock mythology of RR that attracted him to the British brand, even as a child. He remembers drawing the car over and over in his notebooks when he was just six years old. But it was only when the designer, photographer and avid rock enthusiast moved from his European hubs to Los Angeles a few years back that the dream of owning a physical piece of the legend became a reality.
Slimane first learned to drive in L.A., in a 1989 “Silver Spur,” and it wasn’t long before he started to search Rolls-Royce dealers for a car that would suit his famously impeccable neo-purist style. Today, Slimane owns two “triple black” models. The first is a curvy 1985 “Corniche” from the late 1960s that features undulating lines reminiscent of an electric guitar. The second is a boxy 1988 “Spur” that has the brutal, militant silhouette of a machine fit for a Latin American dictator. (A late 1970s Shadow may soon join the family in Slimane’s garage in the Hollywood Hills.)
Considering the conflation of money, glamour and car-fetishism that is rife in Los Angeles, one might think that a “Rollie” is a common sight in Hollywood, but according to Slimane it is extremely rare to see anyone below the age of 60 driving a vintage Rolls-Royce around town. The cars have largely fallen from grace since the 1970s, and owners tend to treat them as sacred objects, more for show than transport (when the designer bought his Corniche it had only 7,000 miles on the clock). Slimane uses both of his cars daily—the Corniche mostly at night and, although it is a convertible, never with the top down. But he too sees them as sacred bodies. Early Roll-Royce models, the manufacture of which began in 1906, were idiosyncratic machines, handmade and customized for the specific owner, down to the door handles and the glove box. In that way, the cars were more like human extensions of their owners; creating and keeping them was almost an act of ritualism.
Rolls-Royce’s deep cultural connections to rock’n’roll, and the careful attention to surface appearance (such as the three dueling matte shades that make up the “triple black” trinity) are understandable reasons why the cars have become part of Slimane’s own growing iconography. His close-up minimalist photographs of the cars he routinely drives are very much consistent with the other subjects of Slimane’s photography—specifically, his black and white concert series collected in the 2002 book Stage, which focuses on personal equipment such as mixing boards, guitars and microphones. Just like the musical gear he captures, these still-life shots of his Rollies—reduced to almost semiotic form—document the sacred parts of a performance, almost as if they were appendages of the person who uses them. One could accuse Slimane of adding to the hagiography of consumer car culture, but these photographs are actually sensitive studies of rarefied, ritualistic objects in a world that has largely stopped manufacturing such individual totems on an assembly line. In some ways, they are like musical instruments in their connection between the interiority of the artist and the very communal public gesture they make as soon as they hit the road.