Hedi Slimane's Celine debut last week prompted a lot of heated discussion. We asked two writers to weigh in with their take on Celine SS19 — one positive, one negative. You can read a contrasting viewpoint to this article here.
The views and opinions expressed in this piece are those solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Highsnobiety as a whole.
In the months after Hedi Slimane’s appointment at Celine in January this year and before his debut show with the brand in Paris last week, the fashion crowd had split into two camps: the ones who think Slimane is a real designer who possesses a modicum of respect for the house he has taken over, and those who have long believed that Slimane is a one-trick egomaniac hellbent on remaking the world in his own image, because that’s what egomaniacs do.
For those of us in the latter camp, the Celine show held no surprises. We just shrugged our shoulders in that resigned “What did you expect?” manner amid handwringing from camp A. What we witnessed from Celine could have been Saint Laurent or, during the menswear part of the show, late Dior Homme under Slimane. No one would’ve known the difference.
As Tim Blanks wrote in his The Business of Fashion review, it was “the same old skinny black suits and skinny ties, the same old hiked-as-you-care dresses, the same old tiny bombers and bikers and Mod and Factory and new wave and no wave.”
The keywords here are “same old,” because someone, somewhere will pipe up right about now with some blather about Slimane staying true to his vision. He’s not, because to stay true to one’s vision, one must have a vision to begin with. What Slimane has is a tired and trite five-letter vocabulary that has long been co-opted and watered down for the masses by high street brands from The Kooples in Paris to Topshop in London.
A real designer understands that a vision is a dynamic thing, not a static one, and that his or her role is to build upon that vision to create something, if not entirely new, then at least fresh. A true fashion designer is never literal. What we got from Slimane were banal sartorial archetypes that we’ve seen way too many times. In fact, by now, Slimane’s banality is his most defining feature — a signature of sorts.
There is much to be said for creating and developing an aesthetic direction, the way fashion giants such as Yohji Yamamoto, Helmut Lang, and Ann Demeulemeester have done. The richness of their oeuvre is evident if you care to look closely enough. But no amount of squinting will reveal any depth in Slimane’s body of work over the last 10 years. To put it in music terms, there's a big difference between a minimalist composer like Philip Glass and a chimpanzee that has learned to hit a few piano keys over and over again.
In the interview Slimane gave to Le Figaro before the show, he said, “You don't enter a fashion house to imitate the work of your predecessor, much less to take over the essence of their work, their codes, and elements of their language. The goal is not to go the opposite way of their work either. It would be a misinterpretation. Respect is to preserve the integrity of everyone, to recognize things that belong to another person with honesty and discernment.”
But the collection he presented was exactly the opposite of the cerebral chic Phoebe Philo had established at Céline (with the accent). With one blow, Slimane destroyed every single molecule of the Philo DNA. Instead of the strong, cerebral Céline woman Philo had championed, we got Slimane's Celine socialite.
The day after the show, the talk among the fashion crowd centered not so much on what Slimane showed — everyone I spoke with said that it was an unmitigated disaster — but about where a woman of a certain character and style would shop from now on.
What remains to be seen is how this hot mess will sell. My prediction is that it will do well — because the masses want the familiar thing but with the right label on it. For them, a different label is fresh enough. Why not Celine? The marketing weight of LVMH will likely take care of sales. The menswear and perfume divisions Slimane has been charged with creating — things that from my understanding Philo had no interest in doing — will propel the brand financially.
But while LVMH stands to profit from Slimane’s “vision,” fashion will not.
For a positive perspective on Hedi Slimane's Celine debut, read Alex Rakestraw's take on Why Celine SS19 Makes Good Business Sense.