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Hedi Slimane presented part one of his AW16 collection last month in Los Angeles. The “Palladium” collection, staged before a huge coterie of California actors, musicians and pop culture demigods (Justin Bieber rolled up on skateboard, Lady Gaga led the applause), combined men’s and women’s clothing and drew heavily on 1970s bohemia and the counterculture spirit of hedonism that still intoxicates West Coast hipsters today.
The clothes have been available to see again in Paris. Last week I visited the showroom to see it all in more detail, and soon became pretty intoxicated myself; lush three-quarter-length culottes and skirts in leathers and heavy black velvet all embroidered with silver stars; sequinned tuxedo jackets spun with celestial details; a great long suede trenchcoat; fun diamanté brooches pinned on a Sergeant Pepper jacket; a houndstooth blazer in browns. The dresses, which fell below the knee and ballooned on the sleeve were worn with vast wide belts and sat high at the neck. They were the most deliciously wearable dresses I’ve seen anywhere this season — long, languid, incredibly flattering. That they had been designed by Hedi Slimane, master of the teeny tiny, seemed impossible. It was all uncommonly practical.
“La Collection de Paris”, presented on Monday night to a few dozen people in the brightly lit salons of rue de l’Université’s Hôtel de Sénecterre (the 17th-century mansion Slimane has been restoring since January 2013), was as rarefied and exclusive as Palladium was populist. Was this even part two of the presentation, or the flipside of Slimane’s creative brain?
It was shown as a couture collection, something Slimane has been working towards in the past year but which found full expression here. The atmosphere was devotional. Phones were switched to silent, and the only sounds that accompanied the show were the slow tread of the model’s footfall teetering down stairwells and through marble-tiled reception rooms in Slimane’s sky-high Paris pumps, and the clipped tones of Bénédicte de Ginestous. The “voice” of Yves Saint Laurent couture between 1977 and 2002, when the couture house closed, her clipped intonation announced each look by its number and recalled a lost era of fashion formality.
The looks were severe, skin-tight and angular, and each model — hair slicked back, lips glossed in Guy Bourdin-crimson and wearing sheer black tights — seemed to look longer and skinnier than the one before.
Slimane’s exploration of the 1980s returned to some of his favourite tropes: skirts barely grazed the pubis, broad belts encircled waists no bigger than a handspan, Le Smoking trouser legs were liquorice-stick slim. But in the hands of the couturier the looks were mind-boggling; crocodile skin kimono tops shone with attitude, black embroidered bustier dresses and tops had great blousey ties at the shoulder; a black leather dress, with a skein of black paillette, rose at the shoulders, like dragon wings.
The look was raw and unapologetic, but here was craftsmanship to silence those critics who have nagged on about the skill in Slimane’s design. With no soundtrack, no little cuties sitting cross-legged on the floor, no dimly lit catwalk to hide behind, these clothes had to speak for themselves, and like them or not, they spoke volumes.
The show closed with a red fur cape. From the back it looked like a heart. For those searching for clues as to Slimane’s future with Saint Laurent, this was a juicy one. Was it a love letter? A fond farewell? The symbol of ongoing attachment? Or simply a token of affection? As of this writing, we still don’t know.
Slimane dedicated his debut couture show to the staff — both in his studio in LA and his ateliers in Paris and Angers — and ducked out of the spotlight, as per usual. His boss, François-Henri Pinault watched the show from a seat upstairs. According to its annual report released last month Kering’s most controversial creative helped Saint Laurent deliver another 26 per cent growth in sales revenues last year: a new couture category at the house could push the profits up further. Parts one and two are complete. Will there be a part three? We wait and see.