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After a near month of speculation over Phoebe Philo’s potential successor at Céline, LVMH has announced that Hedi Slimane will helm the French luxury brand come February 1st. The instalment of the Paris-born multihyphenate as Artistic, Creative and Image Director of Céline galvanises a series of firsts for the womenswear brand.

Under his leadership, Céline will introduce menswear, couture and fragrance. However, for Slimane, who’s impact in a mere four years as Creative Director of Saint Laurent between 2012-2016 is still palpable, the new post signifies a kind of homecoming. Following on from a formative seven-year stint as Creative Director of LVMH-owned Dior Homme in the early 2000s, Slimane’s new position returns him to an old stomping ground. And as with any brush with our past – even if it is to return home – news of Slimane’s latest title has generated equal apprehension and approval ahead of his first collection for Céline, set to debut at Paris Fashion Week this September. 

"Lagerfeld was on the money; what a great choice indeed. So why, in the ever-perceptive industry rumour mill, didn’t anyone have a hunch that Céline’s next headliner would be Hedi?"   

LVMH chairman and chief executive Bernard Arnault told Business of Fashion, “I am particularly happy that Hedi is back within the LVMH Group and taking the reins of our Céline maison. He is one of the most talented designers of our time.” The same excitement was echoed by Karl Lagerfeld, “I am enchanted, what a great choice.” Certainly, in Philo’s absence it would appear that the stars of fashion partnerships had aligned in style. My knee-jerk reaction to like every Instagram post highlighting the announcement told me the same. Lagerfeld was on the money; what a great choice indeed. So why, in the ever-perceptive industry rumour mill, didn’t anyone have a hunch that Céline’s next headliner would be Hedi?

As with all new designer pairings with storied luxury houses, Slimane’s Spring/Summer ’13 debut collection for Saint Laurent was received with caution. For one, Slimane had dropped the first part of the label’s name. T-shirts emblazoned with ‘It’s not Saint Laurent without Yves’ were sported by loyal fans in an act of resistance, who clung to days of yore when the original designer’s namesake still sprawled across storefronts.

KARLIE / HEDI SLIMANE ARCHIVES / NEW YORK / NOVEMBER 2011

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Hedi Slimane became famed at Saint Laurent for his tendency to use paper-thin models

Dissenting critics unable to reconcile the brand’s roots in Paris with Slimane’s homemaking in California were disinvited from future shows. Campaigns featuring skinny silhouettes worn by even skinnier models were banned by advertising watchdogs in France. Then finally, in 2014, the slow burning reception to Slimane accelerated, with Kering reporting that Saint Laurent had more than doubled in annual sales revenue to €707 million.  But can Slimane do for Céline what he did for Saint Laurent? And can he do it all the way from Los Angeles?

As Vanessa Friedman reflected in the New York Times, “it’s impossible to ignore [Slimane’s] fascination with youth culture, and a certain emaciated, up-all-night aesthetic.” I personally would welcome his return to Saint Laurent with open arms and an open wallet. But the differences between Slimane and Philo are stark and striking. Where Philo chose Joan Didion to front one of Céline’s campaigns, Slimane chose Marilyn Manson to front his menswear advertisements for Saint Laurent. Unlike Philo’s allegiance to France, showing her collections for Céline at the Tennis Club de Paris, Slimane marked the 50th anniversary of Yves Saint Laurent’s debut of his Rive-Gauche collection at the Hollywood Palladium in Los Angeles.

Spring 18 Collection #CelineSpring18 #celine

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Phoebe Philo's aesthetic at Céline was focused on the modern woman

For Philo, Céline was focused on the modern woman. For Slimane, Saint Laurent was finitely attuned to the millennial. These attitudes infiltrated their brick and mortar stores: Saint Laurent’s shiny mirrored surfaces offered reflections that were sexy and cool, while Céline’s minimal interiors and marble floors gave an air of being grown up and refined. Most importantly, Céline under Philo’s direction designed exclusively for women. What happens to her legacy when Slimane begins to design for men?

Irrevocable change in fashion is par for the course; refusal to embrace it will make one irrelevant. But Slimane’s multi-focal approach, with standalone Céline men’s boutiques and fragrances reported to surface by 2019, threatens to leave womenswear behind. Inclusivity is always desirable – men and women should be able to wear clothes of their choosing – but there is an argument to be made that Philo’s Céline gave women a space of their own, and menswear could well impinge on it. This is exacerbated by the in-and-out culture of creative directorships in vogue today. Indeed, Slimane’s brief stints are hard to gloss over, prompting us to welcome him tentatively at Céline. Will he open the door for menswear there and leave it ajar for a while, or will he promptly close it and move onto the next?


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The creator of a 'modern icon', Phoebe Philo says goodbye to Céline

That Céline under Slimane’s holistic directorship will have elements of youth, sex and rock and roll is certainly enticing – even the modern woman wants to remain modern. Just as long as she doesn’t get lost