Fashion is in flux, and designers hotfooting it from one brand to another isn't out of the ordinary. And yet many publicly mourned the departure of Phoebe Philo from Céline after a decade as the brand's creative director, even before knowing who would be her replacement – such was Philo's impact. She's credited with creating a kind of intelligent dressing that touched all areas of the industry: if you've worn Stan Smiths with work trousers, tucked your hair into a rollneck knit or donned a silk pyjama shirt outside the bedroom, you've been influenced by Philo's vision.
So when it was announced that Hedi Slimane – the French Tunisian designer responsible for Dior Homme's hard-edged, sexed-up, 'heroin chic' aesthetic – would be taking the mantle, Philophiles (the name given to Philo's dedicated fashion disciples) were understandably shook. There's a pretty stark contrast between the two designers' creative outputs. While Philo was all about the smart, cool and contemporary woman, Slimane looked to the darkly sexy underworld of clubs and punk.
Hedi's first moves as Celine's artistic, creative and image director haven't been without drama. On 2nd September he introduced the new brand logo via Instagram, reducing the spacing between letters and removing the accent, an homage to the brand's 1960s "original, historical version" and a modernist typography dating from around 1930. Fans reacted with outrage, perhaps naively, considering Slimane's removal of the 'Yves' from Saint Laurent during his tenure there. The whole debacle turned into a rather hilarious Instagram sensation, with the likes of Diet Prada documenting rogue accents being added back to the new logo on campaign posters during New York and London Fashion Week.
While speculation has been rife regarding Slimane and the new Celine, the designer himself is a man of very few words. In his 20-odd-year career, he's given a handful of interviews, and the mystery – bar a few campaign images and a handbag spotted on Lady Gaga's arm – surrounding his debut collection, presented this Friday, has the whole industry waiting with bated breath. In an unprecedented move, though, Slimane has given an interview to French newspaper Le Figaro, translated by Business of Fashion, in which he reveals – in rather philosophical fashion – his vision for the brand, his influencers, and his way of working.
Here are nine things we learned about Slimane and the new Celine, from how Donald Trump has made him reconsider his Californian home to whether he'll be sticking with that androgynous aesthetic.
California or Paris?
Slimane has lived in California since 2008, but the changing political scene there may well draw him to Celine's home in Paris. "[I was] already very attracted to Los Angeles, where I used to go regularly since the end of the 1990s," he explained. "I would start all my Dior collections there in my hotel room...There was no creative or artistic stimulation yet, nor was there a rise of a strong music taste. This became clearer later, after 2008. Barack Obama’s presidential victory played an important role. It boded well for the future. On the contrary, Donald Trump’s election created quite a strong uncertain environment that is hard to escape."
He'll follow Philo's tenure with respect but change
Acknowledging the stark contrast between their aesthetics, Slimane said, "Besides, we don’t enter a fashion house to imitate our predecessor, much less to take over the essence of their work, their codes and elements of language...It also means starting a new chapter. We arrive then with our own stories, our own culture, a personal semantic that is different from the ones of houses in which we create. We have to be ourselves, without any stance, against all odds." He notes that because the house isn't as old as Dior or Saint Laurent, it will be easier to "break free of...the weight of the past."
While he'll be starting afresh with the brand, he doesn't intend to erase its history. "The goal is not to go the opposite way of their work either. It would be a misinterpretation. Respect means preserving the integrity of each individual, recognising the things that belong to another person with honesty and discernment."
Nightlife is still on the agenda
What goes on after dark, behind club doors, and after the show is over, has always fascinated Slimane, and this shows no sign of waning at Celine. "I infinitely like Paris by night. I grew up between the Palace theatre and Les Bains-Douches. It’s a pity that the city seems determined to close down interesting places like these and turn its back to the world of the Parisian night," he said. "The lights still remain, though. The lamp posts working their magic, the neons in the cafés, the sparkling Parisian youth and the energy of the streets."
The invitations for Friday's debut show? A bound book of photographs of 10 of Paris' most legendary haunts, from La Cigale to Pile au Face – a sign of things to come.
Removing Celine's accent was about shaking things up
Denying that changing the brand's logo was "marking my territory", Slimane said he expected it to cause a reaction. "Nowadays [this reaction is] even more present due to the viral effect of social media. It’s normal. It was anticipated but it had to be done." His reason for doing so, he explains, is about evolution and debate. "The major houses are alive. They must evolve and find the essence of what they truly are. Everything but indifference. We don’t shake things up to be subtle. When there’s no debate, it means there’s no opinion, which brings us to blind conformity."
He's remaining faithful to his signature aesthetic
When asked whether he'll be able to stand by his androgynous style when so many collections are mixed gender now, he likens his work to big changes in silhouettes affected by the likes of Christian Dior and Yves Saint Laurent. "I stand firm on my principles. Why would I give up on what defines me? Becoming someone else on the grounds that what I have done in the past has been accepted or emulated? Historically speaking, as soon as the silhouette is modified, the reactions are always very sensitive. I think about Christian Dior’s 'New Look' or Yves Saint Laurent’s 'Libération' collection in 1971. A guideline, it’s always taboo, and yet, it’s at the start of everything."
And his inspiration for that slim-fit, almost genderless aesthetic came from wanting to deconstruct accepted masculinity
"Twenty years ago I put back the shoulders where they should be, and I redefined a line...I have always thought about masculinity as being represented in other ways than in the body, the muscles, the common places of virility. I was always interested in the 'beginnings', in the idea of the first suit, the pleasure and the young desire of a first jacket, a jacket for going out, some kind of tailoring for men that is devoid of any statuary character, far from the constraints and conventions of the banker suit. This had to involve a redefinition of the codes and the silhouette."
Unlike Kendall Jenner, Slimane believes models are just as key to a designer as the clothes
Slimane's casting has always been an intrinsic part of his shows, and for Celine, models are an integral part of the team. "I have girls and boys that come every day to try out new models: they are our partners," he says. "I admire them and their presence is crucial. The casting is key to everything. Couturiers are nothing without their models. I see them as artists. They have the capacity to transform, transcend, give life and justice to our creations. Indeed, if a dress that I particularly enjoy doesn’t have a body that wears it, it won’t make it to the catwalk because it’s not embodied. This Celine project is a collective adventure, a community of strong personalities. It’s a team work. The studio work, the workshop work, and the models’ work." Will his debut show include some familiar faces?
He has chronic tinnitus, which resulted in a period of extreme pain
"It happened over a year ago now, when I started hearing obsessive and persisting noises one morning...there’s no remedy for it," he said. "This tinnitus apparently comes from a post-traumatic stress disorder without acoustic shock. It first got out of control, and I went through a very dark period, with anxiety phases that were unbearable. The unthinkable idea to never ever know silence was unbearable to me. It was a spiral. A pain on a daily basis."
He sees social media as "the Wild West"
While Celine and his photography website both have Instagram accounts, Slimane doesn't have any personal feeds. "I understand the craze, but in my opinion, the personal privacy seems to be the last luxury that needs to be preserved." While he sympathises with those growing up in the midst of this new digital reality, he wonders if we'll all tire of "this search for cyber-fame, where quantity is what impresses people" and instead a social network that moves "towards a new realism with no alteration or touch up" will emerge. "There still's a lot to do in order to protect everyone's balance and truth."