Fans of Celine (or should we say Céline) were mighty upset after the label’s spring 2019 presentation, which marked Hedi Slimane’s start as the French brand’s head creative. Critics viewed offerings as a verbatim continuation of Slimane’s work at Saint Laurent and an overly abrupt break from Phoebe Philo’s perfectly laid back chic aesthetic.
It should be noted the presentation included the launch of Celine menswear, which escaped most of the harshest criticism. It should also be noted that Slimane’s predecessor was not only an insanely popular designer but also widely admired as a human and because of that there probably isn’t a single soul on the planet who could’ve have replaced her without having some hate rained down on his/her shoulders.
Perhaps more so suited than anyone to the inevitable attacks, Slimane responded to the critiques via an email sent to French journalist Loïc Prigent, who revealed the response on his program “5 Minutes de Mode by Loïc Prigent,” a TMC-produced TV program.
Slimane began by pushing back on the format of the criticism, in part blaming the unfettered hatefulness of social media critiques. On WWD, Slimane is quoted as writing, “It’s always very jarring and I always feel like people are talking about someone else. Besides, the spirit of the show was light and joyful, but lightness and insouciance are being called into question these days. I’ve already been through this at Saint Laurent.”
He also specifically spoke to a designer who compared Slimane’s installation at the label to Donald Trump winning the election. “You’re dealing with politics, conflicts of interest, cliques, a predictable attitude, but also staggering exaggerations of conservatism and puritanism,” wrote Slimane. “Violence is a reflection of our time, the rabble-rousing spirit of social networks, despite the fact that they are a formidable community tool. There are no longer any limits, hatred is amplified and takes over. Does this mean women are no longer free to wear miniskirts if they wish? The comparisons to Trump are opportunistic, rather bold and fairly comical, just because the young women in my show are liberated and carefree. They are free to dress as they see fit.”
He noted that U.S. observers were particularly sensitive to the fact that he succeeded a female designer, Phoebe Philo, who transformed the label during her 10-year tenure with sleek and luxurious leather goods and modernist clothing.
In a less effective argument, he also argued he was being attacked for being a man. “For some in America, I also have the poor taste of being a man who is succeeding a woman. You could read into that a subtext of latent homophobia that is quite surprising. Is a man drawing women’s collections an issue?” Slimane asked.
Slimane ended by thanking his haters: “At the end of the day, all of this is unexpected publicity for this collection. We didn’t expect as much. Above all, it crystallizes a very French form of anti-conformism and freedom of tone at Celine.”
Prigent noted he included only a portion of his email exchange with Slimane and promised he would provide additional feedback from the designer in an upcoming show.
At least for now, Slimane has the backing of his boss, LVMH chairman and Ceo Bernard Arnault, who responded with an enthusiastic thumbs up to the debut collection, telling Prigent, “I loved it!”
Check out Celine spring 2019 women’s looks below. If you’d like to compare and contrast, check out Philo’s pre-fall 2018 lookbook, representing her final collection with the label.