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What Hedi Slimane’s New Position At Céline Really Means

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A flash of fashion news interrupted this weekend: The former head of design at Yves Saint Laurent, Hedi Slimane has been appointed Artistic, Creative and Image Director of Céline - the house that Phoebe Philo left at the end of last year.

Phoebe Philo

Not only will Slimane take up the reigns of the label, but for the first time in the history of the brand, he will expand the house to include menswear, couture and fragrances.

‘He is one of the most talented designers of our time. I have been a great admirer of his work since we collaborated on Dior Homme, which he launched to global critical acclaim in the 2000s’ said Bernard Arnault, the CEO of LVMH, which owns Céline.

The Parisian-born, Californian-based designer moved the needle of menswear while working at Dior Homme (between 2000 and 2007) by radically changing how a generation of men dressed. His so-called ’17cm’ jeans with their slick fit launched a million copycat drainpipe trousers and skinny suits. Indie bands have a lot to thank him for.

After several years in the wilderness, Slimane was persuaded to take up the helm at Yves Saint Laurent. Once again, he proved his commercial nous was switched on. Under his watch, Saint Laurent changed its name (dropping the Yves), stopped pandering to critics and became a buzzy label. Buyers loved it. Celebrities adored it and it very quickly it became the big-ticket show at Paris Fashion Week.

By all indications, Slimane’s previous success will follow him to Céline, even if his visual codes are vastly different from that of his predecessor. Philo’s stint at the French fashion house turned around the label’s fortunes by ushering in a new era of minimalism that resonated with women. Her exquisite work became the zeitgeist, launching handbag trends and renewing interest in Birkenstocks and Stan Smith sneakers. She made intellectual, architectural clothes that worked for women, that moved with their body.

While Slimane is also no stranger to starting trends, his back catalogue at Saint Laurent was of a universe away from Philo’s quiet artistic expression. He picked a cabal of musicians (often critiqued for their extreme slimness) to present Glastonbury-ready babydoll dresses, grungy cardigans, mini skirts, sky-high platformed heels and fedoras. While some critics doubted him, the trends caught on and the company boomed.

Not to splash cold water on this recent LVMH coup, but a writer at Dazed has shone a light on Slimane’s dire diversity record. He calculated that during the designer’s tenure at YSL he presented 15 shows of 875 looks but only featured 19 models of colour.

Though he will have an uphill battle to win over Philo-loyalists many see Hedi’s appointment as a positive indication that Céline will be moving into an increasingly gender-neutral territory. And, that using his LA links, Slimane will finally make moves on the red carpet. Plus, the instant announcement that the label will now be making perfumes suggests his vision to make the design house an accessible commercial vehicle.

All we can do now is sit tight and put his first Céline show this September in our calendar.