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Why Hedi Slimane at Céline could be fashion’s next great story

Philo had her Céline woman, Slimane will have his

First thing on Sunday morning, a friend texted me. ‘Hedi’s gone to Céline’, followed by three of the spiky explosive emojis. She was excited. And knew I would be too.

The scene of the announcement was the Céline Instagram account. The comments there were more passionate than anything regarding AW18 menswear, which was on its final day of shows. Hedi Slimane is a designer who everyone has an opinion about.

But here’s mine. I’ve followed Slimane’s work since the first superb Avedon images taken for Dior Homme. I was thrilled when the project became a story about the 00s UK indie movement. It was radical and exciting. Clothes that spoke directly to us using a French haute couture house. At my graduation, I wore a Slimane suit. It was a size that didn’t exist at any other brands. I wasn’t in the end-of-degree photo because I didn’t need it: I felt the business in that look.

Hedi’s work at Dior Homme, from Paris salons to photographing sweaty gigs in Whitechapel, catalysed menswear at warp speed. It became a true epoch, a story that loomed over culture. Aside from establishing Slimane as one of the eminent photographic voices of our time, it spoke of how men’s clothing was not always a prosaic afterthought of women’s (though you’d have to go back to the 17th century for the origin of that, when aristocratic men claimed high heels). What Hedi did was a contemporary rebalancing – writing a timely philosophy via rock heroes like Bowie to create everyday stagewear where life is the performance. Both conceptually and in the quality of make, it was the beginning of how things are today.

Slimane’s designs are fanatical in their detail and they are complemented by the right attitude: forgetting all about them when they’re on. One example: in his debut Saint Laurent womenswear collection, SS13, Hanne Gaby Odiele wore an entirely hand-embellished couture dress you couldn’t even see because a cape was thrown on top. It danced on the breeze with every step. A unique perfume was also mixed for the models to wear that night only. When they slinked past in fringed suede, calf leather and crêpe de Chine, the smell began to hover like a feelgood aura. Slimane’s catwalks have the recognisable feel of chance encounter because the models walk so fast – as if seeing someone incredible looking in the street and a second later they’re gone.

Those fifteen shows were electric, like going to a great gig. There were the front-row rock contingency, both established and emerging (and who know the real deal when they see it). The stadium-like light installations. The 20-minute exclusive soundtracks by Thee Oh Sees, Ty Segall, Liars, Mystic Braves, Sam Flax and Swimmers played through concert-grade audio; a survey of California’s pulsating music scene on a world stage. It was all very fitting for such a beautiful house, with its history of rebellion and culture. Yves had Marrakech, Hedi had California. And throughout Pierre Bergé was a giant of the 20th century, from politics and gay rights to philanthropy.

“(During) Phoebe Philo’s decade-long tenure the brand came to represent an archetype of chicness: a modern woman who wears a £1500 silk shirt with a pair of Stan Smiths. But that was her vision, not Céline’s”

Slimane begins work at Céline in February with his first show scheduled for September (SS19). There will be womenswear, menswear, fragrance and the couture finery he’s always excelled at. Though it would be daft to speculate the future, we can muse on what we do know and what it means.

Firstly, let’s address the predictable outrage held by a few during his tenure at Saint Laurent. The concern this time is about the ‘Céline woman’ and what she stands for disappearing. Tell me, what does she stand for? Under Phoebe Philo’s decade-long tenure the brand came to represent an archetype of chicness: a modern woman who wears a £1500 silk shirt with a pair of Stan Smiths. But that was her vision, not Céline’s, which has constantly reinvented itself since 1945 – this is a house that began making bespoke children’s shoes before reinventing as womenswear in the 60s.

Slimane has consistently paid tribute to youth and emerging talent, with all their purity and restless energy, through his work. But that doesn’t mean his collections shouldn’t be analysed on multiple levels: everyone looks good in a Smoking. Charismatic and complex women have always been a part of the journey – from Isabella Blow buying leather Dior Homme tailoring and strutting around like the main event to Joni Mitchell, Kim Gordon, Marianne Faithfull, Courtney Love, Jane Birkin and Juliette Gréco being photographed by Slimane wearing Saint Laurent. All looked sensational, the best version of themselves. He is an exceptional tailor.

Quite fascinatingly, Céline will be one of the few brands producing menswear where the label sewn inside is, or was once, a woman’s name. That too is special.

It should also be recognised how crucial it is Hedi is able to work in the world of fragrance again, for the first time since Dior. At Céline there aren’t any existing perfumes. What he offers will instantly become the house classics, sold at counters for the next 50, 60, 70, 80 years.

Then there is Slimane’s title: Artistic, Creative and Image Director. Good! Give him the lot and all the recognition for it. A vision shouldn’t be quelled, nor should its expression be limited. If only everyone was as panoramic. The fashion landscape would be an infinitely more wondrous place.