Hedi Slimane isn’t looking for your approval. The 111 looks he sent down Celine’s Fall/Winter 2020 co-ed runway show in Paris last night made that clear. Some journalists and fashion editors that have been disinvited or tactically put at the far back of Celine’s 10-plus rows after writing no words of praise might disagree. But at large, Slimane — now two years into his role at Celine — is doing Slimane.
The Parisian designer’s vision at Celine is so consistent, if not derivative, one can predict the exact shape and form of look 73 after look 11. The men are ultra-skinny rock-dandy-surfers clad in leather, skinny jeans, and heeled Chelsea boots. Throw in a pussy-blouse, crop top, and a range of skinny scarves and call it “unisex” as put in this season’s show notes. After all, it was Slimane’s first time merging his men’s and women’s runway shows for the brand.
Before her debut Resort collection for Celine (then Céline) in 2009, Slimane’s predecessor Phoebe Philo told Vogue “Everything we’re doing is about going forward.” It’s why many would only fully understand Philo’s runway designs and references once it hit the shop floor six months later when the wider culture had caught up and given the meaning.
Slimane has proven he has little interest in taking that approach. He has a predilection for the past instead by heavily referencing his own creative language introduced at Dior and later at Saint Laurent. At Celine, he frequently reintroduces exact items from the brand’s archive without altering their appearance, unlike many of his peers. This season’s ‘Sulky’ handbag, first introduced in 1966, is the latest example.
But the world has changed, so has fashion. Consumers today demand brands be more than a seller of goods, they need to stand for something. And so too have the roles of designers, musicians, artists, film-makers and other creatives with a voice to bring in the wider world into their work.
At a time when body diversity, sustainability, and transparency are some of the many topics on the minds of youth today, Slimane is persistently pushing out a vision of singularity, where there is little room for exploring these themes. For a designer so heavily inspired by counter-cultural youth — those that have forever kicked against the conformity of the generations that came before — Slimane, and Celine as a leading luxury brand, are missing the mark by not looking at the youth of today.
Then sales will tell you otherwise. In his two-decade career, Slimane has been praised by his impressive ability to make already successful luxury fashion houses sell even more. First at Dior, later at Saint Laurent, and now at Celine. After all, he makes a killer coat, suit, and boots. Then at a time when consumers are less brand loyal than ever before, Slimane has a hard-core legion of fans, who much like the dedicated followers of Rick Owens and Maison Margiela will celebrate his every step.
Outside of the fashion bubble, where luxury is still often signified by its label, consumers aren’t as preoccupied with moving the agenda forward as those on the inside. It doesn’t mean Slimane shouldn’t either.