Celine, sans accent aigu. A new dawn is upon us — and it's dark, in all senses of the word.
In December, it was revealed that Phoebe Philo would be stepping down from Céline, and in January, creative director Hedi Slimane of Saint Laurent, would take over. Philophiles, as the creative director's fans were known, were distraught by the news. They were even further thrown when Slimane's first order of business was changing the house's logo. And with the French photographer and creative director's official mens- and womenswear debut in the books, we have a feeling they're in full panic mode.
Slimane's spring 2019 collection could have been gleaned from the obvious — given the recent and rare interview he gave to Le Figaro last week, it was clear the designer would be starting a new chapter at the French fashion house. But, at a time when hope in the real world seems to be at an all-time low, Slimane’s arrival felt more like a crash landing than anything. Was completely foregoing the point of view of a woman whose legacy is defined by designs that were drawn for powerful women the sound, on-trend thing to do?
As guests entered Place Vauban, they were greeted with coupes of Celine-branded champagne and a rare Karl Lagerfeld sighting (as well as a more obvious fashion show groupie Lady Gaga, who was among the two women to debut one of Slimane's first handbags for Celine, alongside Angelina Jolie). It was already more spectacle for a Celine show than Philo would have ever entertained. Within the first few looks, which featured leather jackets, skinny jeans, and sequins, it was evident the 80's-era, Saint Laurent stronghold that's captivated Slimane's attention for the past decade or so hasn't loosened at all. And that's a shame.
The clothes themselves didn't allow any growth for the brand. But the designer did make good on his promise to write (sharply commence) Celine’s next chapter. It's just that ultra-short, asymmetrical, glittery cocktail dresses and Western-style ankle boots, compared to the meditative, almost conservativeness of Philo's revolutionary Celine, feels like a completely different book. Even bipartisan fans, those of both Slimane and Philo, can agree that this was not Celine — it was Zadig & Voltaire, Sandro; it may fly off racks, but it will not be revered in history.
The pressure on designers to drive revenue, however — and this goes for visionaries, even — is too high to surmount. When Slimane departed Saint Laurent in 2016, sales had hit $1.39 billion, up more than 150% when he joined the house four years prior. The objective with Hedi, as LVMH chairman and chief executive Bernard Arnault stated in January, is to reach "at least $2.3 billion to $3.4 billion, and perhaps more, within five years." That will surpass what Philo did for Celine during her 10 years at its helm, as sales hit $828 million. So, why wouldn't Slimane stick to what he knows and crank up his greatest hits? Even if that means at the cost of a net zero connection to the house's legacy?
If it were worth your time to pay attention to fashion at all right now, what with Eastern and Western nations in crisis, we'd continue to list what Slimane showed for his debut. But it's best to look at the evidence yourself and form your own opinion. Because, like half of the audience at Friday's show, you'll either applaud Slimane's vision or you won't — especially if not clapping is some form of silent protest against Slimane's use of six Black models for a 96-look runway show that's supposed to reflect the future of fashion and style. Or if what unfolded simply hit you where it hurts.
The biggest problem with the new Celine, though, is this: At a time when the industry feels as divided as the world around it, and designers forget that doing the next indicated thing (increasing size runs, putting editors back in the front row, producing their clothes ethically and sustainably) will eventually lead them to the answers of life's bigger questions, the quench for newness is ever pertinent. And yes, Slimane's beginning at Celine was new for the house and those loyal fans who feel so emotionally connected to it — but arguably, it couldn't have been a head-scratcher for the man himself to pull off. Though we were gunning to be proved otherwise, Slimane's first collection for Celine was just too steeped in the past. The '90s are alive and well, but even if a qualified governing body can fail to vote on doing the right thing, it may, too, be time to put nostalgia to rest and move on.
So, perhaps it takes a woman at the helm of a fashion house like Celine to understand that, at least right now, women need Celine more than ever. Its DNA and impact during the #MeToo and Time's Up movements, and the most recent Kavanaugh hearing, couldn't be clearer; it makes Slimane's debut a missed opportunity — a start on the wrong foot during what should be Celine's most historic period, if we could even imagine such.