Hedi Slimane Leans Heavily on the Archives for Celine Fall/Winter 2019

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The glass-windowed building that is Les Invalides Place Vauban – an impressive space with the Eiffel Tower glittering away directly to the west and the gilded dome of Musée de l’Armée looming behind – is Celine’s new show location. When Hedi Slimane takes over a house, he changes everything – the venue location, the logo, the aesthetic – as is his wont.

After sitting idle in the darkness, ripe with anticipation, a bolt of electricity coursed through the audience as the lights powered up on queue, and a bass-driven song boomed from the rafters. On the far end of the runway, a glass box descended from on high, lined with mirrored tiles and flashing lights. Inside, a model stood, stock still, as the glass box precariously lurched to the floor. From a distance, she looked to be fully clothed, which already signaled a departure from Slimane’s typical nearly-naked formula.

When the doors of the box shot open, a 1970s bougie babe emerged, decked in a blazer, a midi pleated skirt, and high leather boots. The look was topped off with with a jaunty silk scarf at the throat and aviator glasses. It was not at all what anyone in that room was expecting.

Photo: Courtesy of Imaxtree

After his debut collection for Celine, Slimane endured scalding feedback that lamented his formulaic designs, which looked identical to what he was doing at Saint Laurent previously. This collection suggested that he heard the criticism loud and clear, but historically, Slimane is a careful planner who outlines the direction of his collections well in advance.

Instead of attempting to revert Celine back to the Phoebe Philo days, Slimane went back further into the archives, and almost literally reproduced the 1970s works of Céline Vipiana. It was an extreme swing away from his debut Celine collection, and a bit of a miss.

Heritage has been a big buzzword at the Fall/Winter 2019 shows. A lot of designers have dipped into the archives and tied their new collections to the past. Some more successfully than others. At first, it was a real thrill to watch the first dozen looks walk down the Celine runway. Ah, he’s doing original Celine! What fun! What a departure from his usual sleaze-and-slouch aesthetic!

And then tedium set in. It was one-note, the same look repeated all the way until the end, with so little variation that you wondered what the point was. Maybe the midi skirt was swapped for a plain pair of denim or pleated culottes, maybe a fur coat or leather jacket came instead of a blazer, but the differences between the looks were minimal. There were a few small moments that departed the formula: a glittering gold jacket caught the eye, as did a creamy woven knit top bearing a lacquered sheen, while a few printed dresses added some visual relief to a parade of sameness.

Hopefully, he finds the sweet spot soon.

Slimane is a divisive designer. There will be people that hate what he does no matter what it is, and plenty who think the exact opposite. Erase the identity of Celine in a single show, and feel the heat of the backlash. Restore original Celine to the runway, and it’s too redundant. The main problem here is that Slimane seems very uneasy in his role. His collection was so repetitive that it signaled a refusal to explore outside of a narrowly defined range of looks, and this is one time where exploration would have been very beneficial. He’s still finding the middle ground between his aesthetic and his new house’s. Hopefully, he finds the sweet spot soon.

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