Fashion veterans have commented that the luxury world is largely endemic-proof, that the coronavirus is a mere blip in the timeline for many of the decades-old houses.
Like many luxury labels with a presence in Singapore, French fashion house Celine prefers not to comment on the pandemic’s impact on business. But it does have a gleaming revamped double-story flagship store at The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands (MBS).
The store had a bit of a false start, though. After a six-month overhaul, it opened on April 1, but closed within a week to comply with circuit breaker measures that took effect on April 7.
The shiny 316 sq m duplex, the Maison’s largest store in South-east Asia, sat empty for more than two months before it reopened again on June 19, when phase two kicked in.
During the circuit breaker period, the boutique offered clients a “distant-selling service” in which customers could communicate with Celine’s retail team, buy remotely and have the items delivered to their doorstep.
The house, which has another store in Ngee Ann City, declined to comment on the closure.
The expanded flagship was hotly anticipated among the fashion community for a few reasons. First, because it would launch the label’s menswear line and the Haute Parfumerie collection in Singapore for the first time. Second, the global store revamp is the first undertaken by creative director Hedi Slimane, who joined Celine in 2018.
“My aesthetic is all about the precise balance and harmony between an ethereal minimal space and the decor specifically chosen for each store worldwide.” – Hedi Slimane
Many had anticipated a refresh of the brand’s visual identity under a new creative mind.
Designed with a “refined 21st century” brutalist aesthetic, the MBS store’s interior mirrors Slimane’s penchant for grungy, glam-rock minimalism.
Natural materials and stones – basaltina, black granite, antique marble and grey travertine – are paired with modern finishings such as reclaimed oak, stainless steel, brass and gold mirrors. His intention was to create “formal tension” with the architecture and subsequent “harmony and a sense of intimacy”, Slimane, 52, told The Straits Times in an exclusive e-mail interview in April. It was the first time he had spoken to the media in South-east Asia.
“I always aim for a store concept that is simultaneously cold yet warm, architectural yet organic,” the Frenchman added.
“My aesthetic is all about the precise balance and harmony between an ethereal minimal space and the decor specifically chosen for each store worldwide.”
Each of the 178 Celine stores around the world is unique. Slimane first rolled out the new
retail concept – which many have described as resembling an art gallery for the pieces – in New York City in February last year.
At the city’s store in Madison Avenue, massive structural columns complement a centrepiece sculpture by British artist James Balmforth, which features stacked blocks of stainless steel and rock.
A branch in Paris takes on a more homey vibe, with a reading corner dressed with sculptural armchairs and bookshelves.
In Singapore, the concept leans towards angularity, lines, and symmetry. Floor tiles line up perfectly with the walls, each slab of basaltina (sourced from a quarry) cut and laid to ensure a continuity of lines throughout the space.
“In Paris, very few couture houses are in the hands of true Parisians. The understanding of that particular young woman or man, of that Parisian allure, is intuitive.” – Hedi Slimane
“All my Celine stores are designed in relation to their location. The local culture forms the essence of each project, with the intention of creating a dialogue between two traditions,” Slimane said.
“For the MBS flagship, I experimented with new pieces of furniture and leather chairs within a sort of laidback 1970s French tradition.”
Each store boasts curated mini-libraries and site-specific artworks curated by Slimane. Despite being notoriously tight-lipped to the press – or perhaps because of it – the elusive designer has had a fairly controversial run since taking on the mantle at Celine.
Once his foot was in the door, he dropped the accent from the label’s logo, marking the start of a brand revamp that quickly divided fans. Many noted a clear shift in the fashion design, away from the understated palette of former creative director Phoebe Philo, who is British, towards a more indie-rock vibe.
Slimane, who was artistic director at Yves Saint Laurent from 2012 to 2016, had said in previous interviews that the new Celine is rooted in, or is a return to, a French mindset.
“It’s a style that comes quite naturally, really, because this is the core of who I am. In Paris, very few couture houses are in the hands of true Parisians. The understanding of that particular young woman or man, of that Parisian allure, is intuitive,” he told ST.
“Today, Celine represents that light-hearted Parisian attitude and taste. There is also a transposition into our contemporary world of a kind of 1960s and 1970s Parisian atmosphere.”
The current ready-to-wear collection was inspired by the French bourgeoisie of the 1970s, as will future collections. In line with his concept of juxtaposition, softer silhouettes such as ruffles and printed maxi dresses stand in sharp contrast to the store’s rather austere design.
When asked how that might translate to his Asian consumers in a globalised world, Slimane, who declined to comment on the pandemic, hinted that it would not.
“Everything must make sense, without any pretence or posing and, most importantly, it must be relevant to (my client’s) life and everyday existence,” he said.
“For my Asian clients, I want to keep intact that form of lightness, enthusiasm, and carefreeness so essential to all my fashion creations.”
Store Photos Courtesy of Saint Laurent Hedi Slimane Photo Y. R.
This article first appeared in The Straits Times.