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The changing of the guard at the French luxury brand Celine is a storyline that has gripped fashion’s front row like a thriller.
For 10 years, Celine has occupied a singular position as the ultimate female-centric fashion label. Its designer, Phoebe Philo, sparked international trends that refreshingly suggested women could look fabulous without restrictive clothing and towering heels.
It was controversial, then, two years ago when Hedi Slimane took over the brand as parent company, LVMH, announced ambitions to triple the cult label’s profits. It was more controversial still when Slimane launched his first collection, trading the label’s critically lauded arthouse chic for very short sparkly dresses. Critics issued a resounding and exasperated “non”.
Six months later, in a plot twist nobody anticipated, Slimane swapped those micro minis for tweed culottes and silk scarves. In an about turn for the ages, this “bourgeois” sensibility – inspired by Celine in the 70s and 80s, when the brand was a Parisian boutique and not a catwalk name – became autumn/winter’s stand out trend.
Little wonder, then, that at Slimane’s third Celine womenswear show in Paris on Friday night there was frisson of intrigue in the air as attendants wondered which way the pendulum would swing.
The show began with trademark drama, lights twinkling from a pyramid installation lit up in sunset colours in a manner that recalled the artwork of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon.
A model appeared within the structure and scowled out at the audience through dark glasses. Her hair was loose and wavy, her hands were firmly in the pockets of her flared jeans. She wore Converse-style trainers and a denim shirt under a double-breasted, pinstriped blue jacket.
The rest of the models poured out, and there were a lot of the blouses that had proved so popular last season, as well as button-down denim midi skirts. It felt very Ali McGraw – models wore headscarves or wore their hair in 70s-influenced natural-looking curls, waves and mullets. There were culottes, midi dresses and little military jackets with gold brocade and frogging that brought to mind Jimi Hendrix. There were open waistcoats over frilly blouses. For the most part the show presented a very realistic way of dressing – a double-breasted jacket, say, over a shirt tucked into flared jeans, a leather handbag worn over the shoulder.
The show even made a stab at reclaiming the banker’s collar – a pin-striped blue shirt with contrasting white collar – pairing it with flared jeans, a blazer and a camel-coloured leather bag.
Occasionally, these same simple silhouettes were adapted to something super-luxe and embellished, as in one iteration of the Bermuda shirts which was encrusted with crystals in cappuccino and caramel.
Slimane is the man who propelled Saint Laurent to commercial superstardom, and made skinny jeans happen through his work at Dior Homme. His personal aesthetic has veered towards glossy night-time glamour, with kohl-rimmed eyes and sharply-cut suits.
This show doubled down on last season’s bourgeoise aesthetic while adding a touch more of Slimane’s rock’n’roll heritage, not least in the stompy gait of the coolly scowling models. The new look at Celine has bedded in.