Like all good stories, my tale of Hedi Slimane’s debut at Celine began with late-night drinks with two of my best mates. We were about to call it a night when we realised that the Celine spring/summer 2019 show was about to start and decided to stay on to watch it live together. I made a friendly wager with one of them, betting that Slimane would stick to his signature razor-thin tailoring, biker jackets and short babydoll dresses; my mate believed Slimane was ready to shock the world, departing from his skinny silhouette.
It was 2 in the morning when the bet was made, and the next hour leading up to the show was spent vigorously refreshing Celine's webpage, waiting for the live stream to load. There was a lot of anticipation in that one hour; every bathroom break was an undertaking in risk of missing Slimane’s debut at Celine.
The show began with two drummers from the Garde Republicaine in ceremonial uniforms playing a drumroll. Curtains were pulled back to reveal a kaleidoscope of mirrors, with a model in the opening look, suspended within, before making her way down the runway.
As we watched the show unfold, two things were clear. Slimane had wiped away everything that Celine once stood for, remoulding it in his ultra-skinny rock and roll aesthetic that he had left behind at Saint Laurent and Dior Homme. While I won the wager and a can of Coke Light, I felt the fashion world was poorer for it.
The collection has a seismic effect on the fashion world, dividing it firmly into two camps: those who lamented the obliteration of the cerebral designs that defined Phoebe Philo’s tenure at Celine, and those who celebrated the return of King Slimane.
Now I understand the disappointment of Philophiles, not only are the products she sent out beautiful, exceptionally well-crafted garments that are able to withstand the changing tides of fashion, they were designed to empower women of all sizes and ages. It made women feel comfortable and stylish, and that their power lies beyond their sexuality. Hell, Philo’s clothes even have legions of male customers buying them.
But expecting one designer to follow in the footsteps of another is simply unreasonable. Slimane’s time at Dior Homme and the success that he brought to the house of Yves Saint Laurent are legendary. As a skinny kid growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, when the idea of masculinity was the well-chiselled Adonis in Versace and Armani suits, he found solace in the skinny musicians, like the androgynous David Bowie, who introduced a different vocabulary of masculinity, one that he channels into his design.
His introduction of skinny tailoring at Dior Homme was a much-needed breath of fresh air, introducing a whole new genre of menswear. His clothes showed the world that power and masculinity can go hand in hand with androgyny, allowing the skinny men of the world to feel just as powerful as their athletic counterparts. If you need any more proof of the impact of his designs, there is always the story of Karl Lagerfeld shedding weight just to fit into one of his suits.
Also, it is also easy to stereotype Slimane as a one-trick pony, with him continuously revisiting the same archetype, but that's saying all skinny silhouettes are made the same. Take for example his range of ultra-slim denim, ones that still can be found at Dior Homme and Saint Laurent, and very likely will be introduced at Celine.
What separates his jeans and the other skinny jeans on the market, and why it's still so desirable to those who are able to squeeze into them, is that it functions more like a corset. By reworking the cut and removing all stretch from the denim, it gives the illusion of elongating the legs for that cigarette-thin look.
For the Celine spring/summer 2019 collection, while the menswear still remains on the slimmer side, closer inspection would reveal trousers that are roomier in the hips and outerwear with stronger, padded shoulders. Slimane works on the nanoscale, and it requires a different lens to fully understand his work.
Where the collection is disappointing to me is the lack of newness when the collection is viewed from a macro point. Slimane is still exploring the same archetypes as he once did at the previous houses. Kris Van Assche amalgamated sportswear into the collection once he took over the reins at Dior Homme, while Anthony Vaccarello added a dose of sensuality and draws inspiration from the house at Saint Laurent. Fans of Slimane would still flock to Celine and buy everything that he puts out, but the truth is that other designers have taken the foundation he left behind and are pushing it even further, while he still stands his ground.
Slimane’s greatest strength as a designer will always be that of a great image-maker, yet he is able to create look after look that embodies the ethos of what is cool and effortlessly chic. It is more likely to be the architects and bankers of the world buying this collection rather than the conceptual clothing from critically acclaimed fashion designers.
His game plan is straightforward: design clothes that are wearable and infuse a large dose of coolness and desirability into them. That's the appeal of his work and if the past success is anything to go on, it works.
The problem I have is that it's a regression back into the times when only one tribe of people are able to feel that way. All the money and clout in the world won't be able to buy you the body to fit into his clothes. It alienates a wide spectrum of body types, and it feels like the only way to be cool or at least be Slimane’s interpretation of it, is to lose a lot of weight. Or you could buy a wallet or a pair of boots from Celine and feel that you belong to that tribe in some way. It's a brilliant business strategy that worked great at Saint Laurent two years ago, but one that feels like it has lost touch with the zeitgeist of the current landscape of inclusivity and diversity.
Maybe the critics and this writer are a tad harsh. After all, following in the footsteps of Philo is a tough act for any designer. Maybe Slimane is shaking off the rust and getting into his groove. Maybe it’s premature to judge this tenure so early into the game. For a designer who is not afraid of making noise, evident by the name-changing of the house, going from Céline to Celine, I just wish the clothes spoke just as loudly as the hype leading up to them. For now, I am going to sit back with my can of Coke Light and wait to see what else Slimane has up his sleeve.