Hedi Slimane At Celine Will Bring Us the Energy the Fashion Industry is Missing
Plus: if Slimane is going to Céline, why is Karl Lagerfeld growing a Retirement Beard?
Photograph by Bertrand Rindoff Petroff for Getty Images.
The news from Paris: Hedi Slimane is going to Céline, Azzedine Alaïa lives on through his clothing, and Karl Lagerfeld is growing a beard.
Let’s slow down for a minute: on the morning before Couture Week and the final day of Paris Men’s Fashion Week—a moment when the fashion world’s attention is laser-focused—Céline threw everyone for a loop by announcing that Slimane would succeed Phoebe Philo, joining the house as the “artistic, creative and image director,” WWD first reported. He will add perfume, so you can smell like a Slimane-Céline woman; couture, so you can look like the most perfectly-executed version of the Slimane-Céline woman; and perhaps most exciting of all, men’s wear, so your boyfriend can be the Slimane-Céline woman, too.
The news caught many off-guard, first because Slimane has been in retirement from the fashion world since he left Saint Laurent in 2016, taking photographs in Los Angeles (**double shaka, my influencer**). Second, Céline, under Philo, stood for a quiet feminist elegance; it was weird in the way that Meret Oppenheim fur teacup is weird: freaky, high-minded, feminine, sensual. As Ana Kinsella, a London-based writer, said to me on Twitter, it “feels sort of like that era of ‘women designing for women’s lives’ is symbolically over.” Céline was always clothing for women, by women; it feels like a strange time, given the political environment, to bring an end to that period.
But it’s perhaps less important what Slimane will bring to the Céline than what he’ll bring to the fashion industry. A provocateur of the first order, Slimane fights with the press, believes unapologetically in his ideas, and creates clothing that sells as well as looks good on celebrities and real humans alike. It’s covetable and sexy; something missing from the two-part symphony of Gucci and Demna Gvasalia that’s set the tone for the past several seasons. (I remember tepidly trying on Saint Laurent at Colette in 2013, just to see what the fuss was all about. It was a black cocktail dress with a polka-dot lace back and puff sleeves and I thought: Ohmygod I look Mick Jagger-girlfriend-level amazing. I bought it. Duh!)
The fashion world could use a little frisson between press and designers; tastemakers and those who could care less about taste; the people who want to dictate how people should spend their money and those of us who are actually spending it. Slimane brings all of that. There can be bad clothing, but there can never be bad fashion. It’s like publicity.
Lastly, Slimane’s appointment brings an end to those rumors, in heavy rotation even just last week, that he might be headed to Dior or Chanel. Except if he’s not taking up the reigns at Chanel, why is Karl Lagerfeld growing a Retirement Beard? Perhaps Tuesday’s Couture show will provide some clues.
Meanwhile, the antithesis of Slimane was getting his due: Azzedine Alaïa, whose atelier is laying the groundwork to preserve his legacy following his death in November with Azzedine Alaïa: Je Suis Couturier, a show of 35 of his most iconic designs. It’s rare that a designer should pass away and a house acknowledges that no one can replace him; as Jonathan Richman sang about Vermeer, no one was like Alaïa. Amid all the noise about Slimane, it was a joy to move through the small, monastic space, which is like a chapel with little niches dedicated to Alaia’s feats of fashion. You can worship at the hem of a gown whose bodice drapes into a ruche from which a skirt pours like white honey; recite psalms at the crocodile corset that balances a precise trumpet skirt; find yourself speaking in tongues at the way a ruched velvet skirt gives way to a web of crystals and flutes of tulle. While many fashion exhibitions insist on sprawling displays and loquacious wall captions about inspirations and muses and evolution and blah-blah-blah, this exhibition is the perfect memorial to the purity of Alaïa’s vision.
But suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared: none other than Naomi Campbell, dear friend to Alaïa and one of the best women to ever wear his clothes. She hugged several people like she hadn't seen them in years and never took off her sunglasses, and I’ve attended four Vanity Fair Oscar Parties and let me tell you that no one has ever looked more fabulously famous IRL (even Beyoncé, who is a different kind of famous: untouchable).
Perhaps it’s the cycle of designer comings-and-goings, but there are very few legends now in the fashion industry, the kind who elicit gasps and summon swaths of photographers merely for their association with this often-alienating universe. Slimane doesn’t necessarily radiate that kind of star power, but I'll bet he will summon its energy.