It was telling that Hedi Slimane’s first press release for his Celine takeover emphasized this fact: “The entire wardrobe worn by the male models is unisex, and therefore will also be available for women.” On a night which was fraught with the separation anxiety suffered by the clan of professional women who have relied on Phoebe Philo’s instincts for Celine, that post-show information was pause for thought. Disruption as a result of the regime change was fully expected. But to take a proper look at Slimane’s design history is to recall that he was the one who reconfigured menswear tailoring—skinny and cool—at Dior Homme in a way that had also had women knocking at the door to order.
That seismic Slimane-led fashion-quake was just after the millennium; about the same time that some of the army of new models he cast for his Celine debut were—by appearances—babies. A different generation has been growing up—Gen Z, which is even more accepting of cross-shopping across gendered lines than some of Slimane’s first customers. The show he put on tonight was decisively pitched at them, in line with the much more famous commercial mark he made during his second coming when he rebooted Saint Laurent as a massively influential brand between 2012 and 2016.
In this much-anticipated third coming at Celine, Slimane proved in 96 looks that his laser focus on his music-club vision of youth has not wavered. Titled “Paris La Nuit,” it dealt out super-short glam dresses for girls: sparkly, pouffed, big-shouldered ’80s silhouettes of the sort Slimane showed in his exit homage to Yves Saint Laurent. Anyone of a mind to argue with the extreme length should take a look at schoolgirls in London—thigh-high skirts amongst teens are the uncontroversial norm. That proposition will surely carry internationally, across young Hollywood and Asia, an appeal deliberately designed to speak to teens over the heads of elders.
But perhaps those girls will be just as keen to share the wardrobe the boys were walking. This was the introduction of menswear at Celine. It’s timely. The biggest boom in fashion spending in the last few years has been in the explosive growth of a new, brand-obsessed male teen market. So far, its focus has been on sneakers and streetwear, but with Kim Jones at Dior Homme and Virgil Abloh driving Louis Vuitton menswear, a new front is being opened in tailoring. In this new venture, that might be where Slimane’s skinny-suited, narrow-tied tailoring could score big. There was not a sneaker in sight. If there really is a swing away from hoodies and track-pants in progress, Slimane’s proposition—classic New Wave tailoring—could be where kids go next.
There’s a pitched battle to reach that new consumer going on. Slimane’s debut was very clearly the opening salvo in the commercial turf war between Celine and its LVMH owner, and Saint Laurent, owned by rival conglomerate Kering. Only time, and marketing gazillions, will tell who wins the competition for relevance.
And as for the Philophile sisterhood? Ostensibly, Slimane’s aesthetic world-view doesn’t include the class of women who were prepared to pay full price for anything Philo designed. However, you never know at retail. Just as it was right at the beginning during Slimane’s reign at Dior Homme, maybe he’ll have grown women slinking in on their own at his Celine—or with their sons and daughters—to buy a suit.