On Sunday morning, in truly inconvenient fashion for those with dogs to walk, newspapers to read and coffee to drink, LVMH announced that Hedi Slimane, former creative and artistic director of Saint Laurent, will replace Phoebe Philo at Céline on February 1st as artistic, creative and image director, and he’ll launch a mens collection for the house. The west-coast zealot will maintain Los Angeles as a primary residence, flying back and forth between the atelier in Paris.
The news was startling; given the impact Slimane had on the house of Saint Laurent — the way in which he executed an upheaval, dropping the Yves from the venerated brand’s title, ignoring the tradition sewn into the house’s seams and creating a new modus operandi for creatives that suggests historical context need not bleed into your design — you have to wonder, does Céline-after-Phoebe require such stark change? Will his shows be as controversial here (at Céline) as they were there (at Saint Laurent)?
Perhaps it is close-minded of me to assume that Slimane will come in and perform a 180-degree flip, stripping the airy shop floors of their terrazzo marble and malachite side tables to replace them with black lacquer and moody, mirrored accents, eliminating the decade’s worth of quiet power and simplicity that Philo has injected into the house for…black skinny jeans.
How will this impact the multitude of designers who have, whether wittingly or not, taken their cues from Philo’s design philosophy — casting aside the male gaze to create clothes that make women feel like the most empowered kind of superhero: she who is, at her volition, invisible?
What a nuanced leap for feminism Céline has generated! The discerning nod of recognition that comes when you spot a fellow fan dressed in whatever it is — a structured suit, pastel pleated skirt, checkered raincoat — has inaugurated a movement, a sense of community among the initiated that has espoused the possibility of a very subtle, very quiet feminism in an increasingly noisy and literal environment. For as frequently as we (Man Repeller) profess that an interest in fashion does not minimize one’s intellect, it is Phoebe Philo who’s made this ethos tangible and consumable.
But not by trying — it’s just who she is, which is what makes the special sauce all the more remarkable. It is a reminder that to truly impact, you don’t have to try so hard.
So what happens when she disappears? When she is replaced by the arbiter of tight leather mini skirts and suede pants that can make you feel like your legs are sausages being forced into packaging that is too small for its might? (Don’t get me wrong, I respect the palpability of his influence, the way he set up Anthony Vaccarello to succeed as current creative director at Saint Laurent). But what happens when a house that has conceived of and become the delegate for such a specific brand of femininity opens its arms for a mens collection? This could be exactly the progress we desire.
Or it could be a disaster. We shall see.
Feature collage by Emily Zirimis; Photos via Céline & Saint Laurent campaigns.