Celine’s New Wave Man
PARIS — The kids will be all right. Hedi Slimane will see to that.
The designer who almost single-handedly altered the shape of men’s wear when, in the early years of the century, he introduced the skinny suit at Dior Homme and who afterward rescued Saint Laurent from the slag heap of market irrelevance with an adoring Gallic skew on Hollywood glamour and Los Angeles youth culture, introduced his first stand-alone collection for Celine on Sunday.
The show was held in a specially constructed, glass-windowed box facing the storied Place de la Concorde, at whose center rises the 3000-year-old Luxor Obelisk. There was no evident reason for the choice of setting, except perhaps as a display of corporate might (Celine is owned by the luxury goods colossus LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton) and the fact that, as a phallic symbols go, it is hard to top a gold-tipped, 75-foot granite erection.
Celine: Fall 2019
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And this was unambiguously a show of men’s clothing — for males, cis-gendered but also questioning. That is a segment of the market that the sweats-and-hoodies proponents have missed. Part of the success Mr. Slimane enjoyed during his previous design stints owed to how easy it was for women to wear the stuff he intended for the scrawny starvelings he favors. Fairly early in his career, Mr. Slimane became an adoptive member of the cultlike clan that continued to surround Yves Saint Laurent well into his dotage.
Now, as then, the person that often comes to mind when thinking of Mr. Slimane’s clothes is not a man but Betty Catroux. It so happens that Ms. Catroux, the chicly tough septuagenarian wife of the decorator François Catroux and otherwise someone with no professional portfolio (she makes a point in interviews of saying she is lazy and has accomplished remarkably little in life) features in a new ad campaign for Saint Laurent.
This inconvenience has in no way prevented Mr. Slimane from continuing to riff on the image of a person who sometimes seems to have dressed herself at the little boy’s department of the Leather Man. Like some of Mr. Slimane’s other style idols (like Courtney Love, seated beside Carine Roitfeld in the front row), Ms. Catroux reaches into history’s closet and grabs what she likes. It’s an instinctive process, not overthought, and a highly personal one. Though Mr. Slimane’s men’s wear debut at Celine had clearly been deliberated, it was not done by committee or corporate fiat. Success has either earned him that right, or else he arrogated it to himself.
And it worked. All designers are now scrambling to dress a generation of men unafraid to embrace fashion though ignorant of its rules. There is Virgil Abloh at Louis Vuitton; Kim Jones at Dior Men; Jonathan Anderson at Loewe; Kris Van Assche at Berluti — to name just those in the LVMH stable alone. Somehow Mr. Slimane manages to stand apart, not necessarily because he is the most skilled designer (that would be Mr. Jones) but because he possesses a cultural divining wand.
The suit is dead, as we are constantly being told. That is, until it is not. And Mr. Slimane made it his business to tune out the death knell of tailoring, opening with a black double-breasted suit with cropped trousers, a white shirt, a skinny black tie and sunglasses that you would certainly have seen, once upon a time, on that most stylish of New Wave musicians, James Chance (a.k.a. James White of James White and the Blacks.)
From there he engaged in a game of theme and variation, black leather bombers playing off ironically worn retirement-home tweeds, blinding glitter jackets in tiger prints followed by sedate drape coats, pleated woolen trousers offset by skinny leather jeans worn by a model with shoe-black bangs and who was scrawnier and even homelier than Joey Ramone.
And what seemed most radical at Celine, in a season when almost every designer is chasing the runaway success that Demna Gvasalia achieved at Balenciaga with the pneumatic and ostentatiously ugly $900 Triple S trainers, is that there was not a sneaker in sight. Remember boots and shoes? Hedi Slimane plans to bring them back.
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