New York City – The bitterness in experiencing déjà-vu is its ability to make you remember – or relive – something you may not want to.
At Celine under creative director Hedi Slimane, that emotional phenomenon is commonplace.
People in fashion today are looking to be shocked. Many recent collections, especially the streetwear heavy, strike me as wearable yellow journalism. The headlines – or accessories – are saucy, ridiculous even, but when it comes down to the body text – the substance of the actual garment – the sartorial narrative falls flat. But the reason Slimane’s takeover at the French fashion house is disappointing is not even that it's overly sensational – it’s that it’s sensationally half-hearted.
In New York, the first Celine flagship designed during Slimane’s tenure is no exception. The similarities between his first flagship for Saint Laurent and the Madison Avenue Celine are laughably fraternal; marble, sharp spatial lines, mirrored surfaces and fluorescent lighting are aplenty in each. There are new elements of warmth, although they seem only accessory to what's been done previously.
Slimane’s work, presumably in line with his expectation for what retail spaces should emanate, is impossibly sexy, albeit tone-deaf. He still does an unrivalled moto jacket and a Le Smoking suit that could only possibly derive from someone that was personally moulded by Yves Saint Laurent – in 1996, 12 years before Saint Laurent’s death, Slimane was appointed to men’s RTW. But Saint Laurent’s women were sexy in a different, vivacious way, as were Phoebe Philo’s before she left Celine upon Slimane’s entry.
Philo’s impression on the brand was and is iconic: there is an Instagram account, called Old Céline, with over 218,000 followers dedicated to actively remembering her collections. And at least there, the accent has remained (like omitting Yves from YSL, Slimane has controversially removed the accent from the brand’s name). The popular fashion platform Diet Prada posts a side-by-side visual comparison of Slimane’s work for Saint Laurent to that for Celine like clockwork each time a campaign drops or a collection is shown. The differences? Like the flagships, nearly indiscernible.
As there are more international openings scheduled, it’s well worth speculating how long people will continue to buy into a story that Slimane has told so many times before
This critique isn’t just about aesthetic preferences, though, but Slimane’s surface irreverence for the cultural scape in which his design lives today. Women loved Philo because her Celine was sculpted and driven by the attitude of those she was dressing, not the other way around. Powerful and strong, sometimes man repellent – no bother. Alternatively, Slimane’s debut collection for Celine seemingly snubs the current sociopolitical climate women are fighting hard to stand tall in.