The Great Bloodbath of Celine by Hedi Slimane
On September 29, 2018, the fashion industry woke up to a bloodbath following one of the most highly anticipated shows of the year. Critics raced one another to the wooden post, describing the event as if it were a massacre of sorts. On September 28, 2018, Hedi Slimane debuted his first collection for Celine, following a two-year hiatus upon his departure from Saint Laurent.
But it’s not just at Celine. The industry itself is experiencing great volatility, and many brands are turning to menswear in hopes of anchoring some stability. With the recent announcement that The Row will be introducing menswear—allegedly of the bespoke kind, though realistically of a certain familiar and subdued iteration—there is one name that has been on everyone’s minds: Hedi Slimane. It’s been nearly two decades since Hedi Slimane first presented us with the Slimane Silhouette at Dior Homme, and we are still talking about it. Though the lapels might move a few inches depending on the season, the quakes from its emergence in 2001 can still be felt today. Take a moment on your morning commute to observe the men shuffling in and out of the E train in Manhattan, and this legacy is ontologically fixed; the suits virile like tight armor—slim, nipped and pulled. With the conversation around menswear today, there was arguably no better time for the maverick himself to make his return. Yet, the decision to come to Celine was miscalculated at best.
In a commercial, purely financial sense, it should be recognized that LVMH made a crucial decision placing their bets on Slimane, seeking to triple profits; the conglomerate wanted numbers—a line of menswear, fragrances—and Phoebe Philo respectfully departed in lieu, her legacy revered quickly following. One cannot dismiss what Philo did for women—the female form, the perversion of the male gaze, simplicity as excellence and democratic with her approach. Look no further than her campaign with Joan Didion—an homage to a writer whose narratives transcend generations—a celebration of womanhood.
As the drums literally rolled in anticipation of 01 Celine S/S19, it erred on the side of a funeral procession—this was no mistake. Celine branded Moet was served before the show. The looks funneled out of a cubist prism, designed by Slimane himself, in black, black, black, and birdcage net hats. The boys and girls marched down the runway rather than stomped, fuming with less angst than his models at Saint Laurent; no pouty red lips in sight. Admittedly, it was a bit more refined, a sort of coming-of-age. With Slimane, nothing is done without every detail carefully considered. From the moment his appointment was announced to the moment the lights went out at the end of the show, Slimane communicated with his creative prowess exactly what he told us he would: “defending an identity on one hand and continuity on the other.” Death and rebirth. In his own words, “black is sharp and straightforward.”
In lieu of heavy comparative critique, it is worth making a distinction: Philo and Slimane’s creative visions are fundamentally, in the most literal sense, day and night (Paris La Nuit, to be exact). Slimane chose to interpret the House of Celine with the exact same approach he took at Yves Saint Laurent. He traced the historical essences, inverted their negatives, and processed them in tones of black and white. From establishing a new maison to returning the name back to its ready-to-wear roots as Celine, his obsession with a visual standard and empirical values are clear.
Unfortunately, his approach failed to translate the same way it did at Saint Laurent—perhaps, as a result of Celine’s hazy history. Though, more realistically, it comes down to timing. When Slimane took the reigns at Saint Laurent in 2012, he was given a task for revitalisation. In the case of Celine, there was no creative visionary gap to fill, Philo had already done it. His appointment was polarizing, and the implosive reaction to his first collection is exemplary of this.
Plastered on every major publication, the shock has been seismic, but it should come as no surprise. Hedi Slimane is notorious for inciting uproar. Admittedly, there is something rather inspiring amidst all this chaos. These feelings of discomfort and disillusionment are exactly what makes Slimane so remarkable—he knows how to leave an impression, and has no regard for how you or anyone else feels about it. He is a bit of a mystery and likes it that way.
Over the last several years, Slimane has noted repeatedly that privacy remains the only true luxury left. His silence is powerful, his words carrying more weight than most. The industry clung to his every word leading up to the show. Though he may not have delivered, his ability to internalize in an age where narratives are no longer novel, rather devalued as a result of their excess, is magnetic. He has and always will be unapologetically himself. Consistency is his greatest strength, but it is also his greatest weakness; stubborn when it comes to deviation or innovation.
Aside from subtle interpretations of Celine’s brand history worked into the garments—the Blazon Chaine reinterpreted as embellishments and beadwork, the reinstatement of the seventies “C” closures on the bags—what really stood out was Slimane’s tunnel vision. It was deja-vu: moto jackets, smoking lapels, crotch grazing prom dresses, double-monk straps, and Cuban heels. Is it Hedi Slimane? Yes. Is it Celine? Emphatically, no.
In an industry that changes at any given moment, there is something to be said for conservatism—not even in the moral sense, but in the aesthetic-ethos of a brand. Philo created the heart of Celine’s success, and that should not be forgotten. Slimane’s work as creative director rears on the side of dismissive. Not just of Philo’s legacy, but of his own. With one of the more positive takeaways from the show being the unisex garments, Slimane undermined his own legacy with excess and superfluous looks. The collection felt disjointed and misplaced, leaving buyers, critics, and followers in a bath of sanguinary dissonance.