It was hard to miss them. A group of a dozen or so gangly youths — some girls, mostly boys — loitering outside the mammoth box-like structure that had popped up on the site of Paris’ military landmark, the Hotel des Invalides, on a Friday evening last September. Like indie kids who had just emerged from a club or rock concert, the nearly all-black, skinny jeans-clad clique jostled around playfully or stood stoically smoking cigarettes, gathering only to pose for a passing photographer; their insouciance intact.
This, however, was not the after-hours scene from some teenage night out. This was the post-Hedi Slimane’s debut Spring/Summer 2019 show for Celine; the imposing structure — the show venue; the youths — his unfettered, un-street- style-conscious models, many of whom had previously never stepped foot on a catwalk. Slimane had named the 96-look collection Paris La Nuit, or Paris by night. And there, nearly half an hour after his reveal, its reckless spirit thrived, even if most of his guests seemed more preoccupied with finding their way home, if they hadn’t already.
This is Slimane’s vision for the French luxury label in a snapshot: a heady mix of youth culture, rock ’n’ roll influences, and not giving a damn about what anyone else thinks. On the runway, it materialised as micro short evening — or “dancing” — dresses with an A-line mod cut or flirty pouf skirt. They were styled with men’s jackets, grungy strapped boots and veiled hats inspired by Slimane’s adolescent years spent in the city’s most iconic nightclubs. Glamorous indie chicks out to party; their boyfriends’ coats in tow.
Philophiles and new wave feminists were livid (The New York Times’ Vanessa Friedman described the look as “infantalising”). However, what the frocks lacked in length and easy elegance, they made up for with craftsmanship — part of Slimane’s takeover saw the introduction of couture, and many of the dresses were sculpted with mini crinolines or wholly hand-embroidered with sequins. That and plenty of blithesome cool. The Celine woman now walks with a rhythmic strut, hands in her pocket, and not a care in the world.
This strain of effortless chic, so to speak, continued in slender suits that were modelled by men, but are meant to be unisex. More than a response to the recent politically fuelled predilection for gender-neutral fashion, it was Slimane paying tribute to a dandy ’70s French punk movement dubbed Jeunes Gens Modernes — or young, modern people — that defied categories in sound and image. Indeed, the slick tailoring — sharp blazers; high-waisted, ankle-cropped pleated pants; ruler-slim ties — emanated youthfulness and Parisian hipness. Like many of Slimane’s designs through his career (skinny jeans come foremost to mind), the pieces will inevitably change one’s stance.
This is Slimane’s magic. Some might call his short/sharp/skinny aesthetic uninventive for someone who has been thrust the keys to one of the world’s most well-loved labels following a two-year absence from the industry. And it’s indisputable that it looks anything but #oldceline. But for the man, fashion is attitude, and the most authentic form is found in those yet to be tainted by the worries that come with age. It explains why youth culture lies at the heart of practically everything that he does.
“Youth is gracefulness, freedom of speech and recklessness. Youth at the same time can be on the lions on the grand boulevards, in the cellars of Saint Germain, and in the occupied lecture halls of the Sorbonne,” he told the French paper Le Figaro in his first interview as the brand’s artistic, creative and image director days before his show. “No matter the time in history, they are this pure energy, the exaltation of every moment and the emotion of skin, living their lives at full speed.”
It’s a particularly romantic and poignant statement when so much of our lives now is consumed by social media; crafted, filtered and repeatedly edited to seem perfect. Whatever happened to living wild and free? Slimane might not fill the same hole that Phoebe Philo left behind, but he is bringing back an attitude that’s been sorely lacking in the fashion world. He also shares more traits with his predecessor than most would admit: Both are intensely private, both understand the transformative power of fashion, and both do as they please — like those kids on the Parisian boulevard.
This story first appeared in Female’s March 2019 issue.