Saturday, September 29, 2018

Hedi Slimane's Céline is 100% Hedi Slimane

When LVMH announced Hedi Slimane as the artistic, creative and image director of Celine in January 2018, there was a collective gasp from the fashion industry.

Firstly, they were surprised to hear fashion’s dark prince, one of the most polarising figures in decades, would be returning to the industry following a two-year hiatus following his exit from Saint Laurent. Secondly, they were shocked that LVMH would appoint Slimane, whose rock-chic, skinny tailoring aesthetic is the antithesis of his predecessor’s, the British designer Phoebe Philo. What would become of the house that, in its modern iteration, lobbied for women on all fronts—she brought them sublime clothing which made them feel like acknowledged as self-assured adults. It was fashion sorbet: palatable, subtle, and delightful.

The answer to the all-important question—what will it look like?—was revealed last night in a purpose-built black box facing Les Invalides.

(The first glimpses of his house were unveiled earlier this month when he removed the accent over the ‘e’ in Céline, making it Celine. He did the same the same at Saint Laurent when he dropped the Yves for the ready-to-wear. If anything, that’s a testament to his influence as a designer. The following promotional campaign of white teenage girls 

Slimane modelled the house in his own likeness, of course. Members of the industry flocked to Twitter to vent their frustration at his casting (almost all white and under-20), and the distinct resemblance to his Saint Laurent. It earned titles such as “narcissistic,” “belligerent,” “offensive,” and “ignorant.” 

But, when confronted with a collection like this, we must ask: are we surprised?  

The answer should be ‘no.’ Slimane is a self-aware designer. He understands he holds power, enough of it to shift the meaning of fashion and the meaning of a fashion house. At Dior Homme in the early 2000s, he championed skinny-tailoring which has since pervaded contemporary culture dress codes. At Saint Laurent, he reignited that flame and sent high street retailers into a 1970s-tinged rabbit hole. The designer who replaced him there, Anthony Vaccarello, is still pushing similar shtick, albeit with more sex appeal. 

Now, at Celine, it appears he’s still targeting that same market and the same image. Youthful, skinny, white. The ‘idealised’ vision of fashion that looks awfully dated in the context of now.

The Parisian reflected on nights spent in Les Bains-Douches and Le Palace, two Paris nightclubs. The clothes were an homage to “young modern people.” It echoed the same narratives he explored a mere four years ago. But the world has tilted on its axis since then. And so has fashion.

The fashion world is interested in point-of-view. Critics readily bemoan the absence of a discernible perspective in collections. There is no denying Slimane possesses a singular vision. When things become self-absorbed, unwavering, and unshakable, then there is a problem. Not only does it situate the fashion in a particular era but it places the designer in the same context. Baby-doll dresses styled with cropped blazers, bold-shouldered 80s silhouettes, sequinned mini dresses, and biker jackets, have had their moment and it has at long last passed.

It is objectifying to replace the female gaze with the male gaze, sumptuous tailoring with micro-minis, comfort-first fashion with uncomfortably revealing fashion. Quite simply, it’s out of touch. 

There was menswear too, the first of its kind for Celine. (His first couture presentation will follow in January.) Like the womenswear, it also bore the same image as his Dior and Saint Laurent days: a fetishisation of skinny, (mostly) white men in tailoring and biker jackets. They didn’t look like visions of how men want to dress, rather visions of how Hedi Slimane wants men to dress. They were victims of idealised fashion clad in ankle-grazing trousers, leather jackets, skinny ties, and buttoned-up shirts. Given its accessibility, forensic attention-to-detail, and excellent tailoring, it’s the kind of stuff you could still see men queueing around the street for. 

Slimane is a merchandiser at heart, he knows how to push product. He tripled revenues at Saint Laurent and LVMH’s Sidney Toledano, chairman of LVMH’s fashion division, expects him to pull off the same feat at Celine. It will take a year or two before that information materialises.  

Slimane, who faced immediate backlash, is known for banning the critics who have offered scathing comments on his work from the show. Judging by the deluge of bad press he’s receiving in the aftermath of his debut, maybe he can’t ban everyone. Or maybe he can. After all, he’ll probably need to make room for the legions of buyers that will be knocking on his door. If they don't, then we'll know his moment has passed.

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