The Saving Grace of Hedi Slimane
In the fashion realm, no name is more polarizing than Hedi Slimane. Able to elicit a disapproving glare and round of applause in equal measure, the 50-year-old has a vision and boy is he hellbent on sticking to it. Flitting between the huge houses of Yves Saint Laurent and Dior, he has now wound up at an equally impressive brand: Celine (without the é). Staunch fans of the label’s previous creative director Phoebe Philo were practically traumatized at the announcement back in January. Philophiles, as they are affectionately known, may have a point. How could someone with a firm oeuvre of youth-based rock ‘n’ roll possibly satisfy the desires of Celine’s grown-up woman? The answer? He won’t. Despite rocketing the brand’s sales from €200 million to more than €700 million during her tenure, bosses are clearly taking the house in a new direction. (See Celine’s recently wiped Instagram for further proof.)
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Slimane is celebrated for bringing a fresh sense of life to major labels. In the late 90s, he was recruited to head up menswear for Yves Saint Laurent. The famed Black Tie collection of Fall/Winter 2000 ruffled feathers for its slim-fitting suits that were a far cry from Versace and Gucci’s muscle-enhancing looks.
Skinny also entered Dior in 2000 when Slimane swapped sides to take over the menswear arm. Suits were so tight that blood supply to the legs was almost cut off; the same went for the jeans. The reaction to this indie band uniform was incendiary. Actresses like Nicole Kidman asked for suits to be tailored to their (still super svelte) size. Even Karl Lagerfeld—a man renowned for his brash attitude—fawned over Slimane, losing a hell of a lot of weight just so he could fit in the clothes.
Encouraging people to lose weight undoubtedly wasn’t Slimane’s intention. A childhood spent being bullied for his thin frame in effect made his aesthetic one of acceptance. In 2015, he told Yahoo Style how his androgynous build spurred others to make him feel “uncomfortable” with himself. As if he “was half a man.”
Admittedly, his skinny mindset didn’t seem to be an issue until his move back to YSL in 2012, where he became creative director of the entire operation, including womenswear. There, Slimane’s controversial side really came out to play. Changing the famous YSL name to simply Saint Laurent, he exercised control in a meticulous manner, displacing well-respected editors to second or third row (or even standing) and banning anyone who dared to criticize his work.
The clothes were described as being too literal—a literal expression of youth and a literal insight into a musician’s wardrobe. Fast-paced and with no care for the whys of what he did, Slimane may not have impressed critics but he certainly filled the pockets of buyers. And his stuff sold. (Saint Laurent posted a billion dollar revenue under his leadership.) Exclusionary though it may have been, people across the globe longed to be a part of Slimane’s cool kid club.
But a slightly more sinister side reared its ugly head every time a Saint Laurent show came to town. Gaunt faces, legs as thin as matchsticks and highly visible bones characterized many of the models (both male and female) hired by Slimane. Of course, it’s wrong to judge a book by its cover but not surprising that talk of ‘anorexia chic’ soon ensued.
Saint Laurent by Hedi Slimane quickly became a staple for off-duty models—perhaps because the clothes were made to hang off of slender frames, rather than the bodies of ‘average’ women. This promotion by the angels of the fashion world may have showered Saint Laurent customers with a sense of belonging then but Slimane’s thinness ideal (hopefully) doesn’t wash with consumers now.
Because 2018 is the time where plus-size models are finally being invited into the inner folds, appearing in shows and campaigns and on magazine covers. It’s where women are dressing for themselves—rather than for the gaze of the men around them. And it’s where models are speaking out about the weight-related pressures and sexual mistreatment they have suffered both by their own agencies and by the brands they’ve worked for. (Indeed, Slimane once told Yahoo Style that a “precise casting” can “give an idea of the time we are living in.”)
In essence, this feeling of independence and diversity is what Philo’s Celine was always about. Prestigious, yes, but accessible at the same time, it gave women the chance to put comfort first without sacrificing style. Combine a pair of white sneakers, tailored pants, and a luxurious coat and you’re a Celine woman. Slimane, on the other hand, requires you to adorn a costume you can show off in front of a crowd. Ultimately, something which many are uncomfortable with.
Assuming that Slimane will carry on where he left off may be a mistake. He has already expressed his disdain for producing simple reruns (“I don’t think it is ever possible to do the same thing again”, he told WWD), preferring to work with the codes and history of the house in order to find a new respectful path. In rarely given interviews, he speaks of the idea of repetition but also of learning to evolve. Granted that path has always included a rather backwards view of the ideal body but there’s no time like the present to instill change.
Philo herself chose an entirely new story, taking Celine from dusty lows to influential new heights. Slimane has been chosen for the same purpose. Little is known about his first collections. (Remember he is introducing menswear, couture and fragrance.) According to Business of Fashion, he is busy creating “perfect versions of classic pieces.” Doesn’t sound too shocking (or un-Philo-like) to me.
He’s also interestingly infusing streetwear techniques into the luxury market, releasing collections in drops à la Supreme. Celine’s current clientele may not be as hyped up as BOGO obsessives but if anyone can bring a cult-like atmosphere into the fray, it’s Slimane.
Taking time out of your day job offers a chance for reflection. We think we know Slimane but his quiet demeanor has safeguarded his innermost thoughts. There’s a real possibility that he has spent the past two years reflecting on previous criticism. Understanding that pure ignorance is no longer the way forward. And, more importantly, realizing that cookie cutter women just don’t exist.
In the words of the man himself, “change is the essence of fashion.” Archaic or revolutionary, Slimane’s clothes are guaranteed to have one label slapped on them: bestseller.