Call it his long game. Last season, Hedi Slimane announced his arrival at Celine with a skinny glam rock collection that felt unambiguously him. The drastic change of direction at the house generated some pretty strong reactions from diehard fans of his predecessor Phoebe Philo, who felt deprived of the glamourous minimalism and sophisticated functionality she had excelled in. But Slimane had bigger plans up his slender sleeve. Having cemented his autonomy, the designer’s next move made jaws drop in a pavilion at Les Invalides on Friday night. A flickering glass cage descended from the ceiling and released a model wearing the first look: an elegant black blazer, a ruffed white shirt, checked box-pleat shorts, and lightly-ruched black leather boots. It was Parisian chic, masculine attraction and rock ‘n’ roll attitude wrapped into one look; a delectable Hedi Slimane take on the ladylike ease of Céline Vipiana’s heritage. “Oh my god,” someone in my block erupted. “It’s really good.”
While, for the last six months, Slimane let the congregated fashion industry believe he was going to turn Celine into a continuation of the codes and silhouettes he built at Saint Laurent – and, to an extent, at Dior Homme – he was biding his time for the plot twist in chapter two: the observance not of Philo’s opus at the house but the original Celine archive that inspired her in the first place. With its faint air of the 1970s, masculine outerwear, bourgeois heritage ‘skort’ suits, French country dresses, and bohemian ponchos and teddy bear coats, it had a distinct echo of the elegantly pragmatic wardrobe so called for in fashion at the moment. Not that Slimane was answering any such calls. He was outwitting his adversaries. Knowing his work and ethos, no critical reaction was going to change his strategy or direction. This felt like a long-term plan long in the making, and one that has only just begun to unfold.
Once the overriding surprise level of the collection settled, some couldn’t help but feel delighted by Slimane’s return to a more thematic way of designing. For so long during his Saint Laurent tenure – and his first Celine show included – his collections were defined by a decided lack of theme, moving instead within his expansive retro modish universe. This collection marked a rediscovery of a directional sense of Slimanism prevalent in his early work for Dior Homme, which remains some of the best men’s collections ever created; even if they were aesthetically lightyears apart from what he showed on Friday night. In his adaptation of 1970s and 80s codes and all that heritage dressing, you got a feeling that life in Mayfair – where Slimane now resides – had played a part in his return to theme. There was something quite posh, quite old-school Sloane Ranger, quite Lady Diana circa her engagement to Prince Charles about those pleated check shorts worn with bomber jackets, pussy bow blouses and patterned silk scarves.
The French would probably claim the look as their own. After all, there was a distinct Parisian lady vibe to Slimane’s collection, which was unmistakably old-old Celine, and occasionally old Chanel, too; no doubt a nod to the late Karl Lagerfeld, who religiously wore Slimane’s tailoring. The score backed that up in an original soundtrack by the un-Google-able Embrasse Moi titled Les Écrans Allumés. As it faded out end-show and some of Slimane’s more recognisable creations hit the runway – sparkly blouses and jackets, lurex threaded evening dresses and sequins – she repeated the words “regarde moi” over and over again. If Slimane keeps up this level of unpredictability, he’ll never have to ask.