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Hedi Slimane enjoys starting his Celine shows with pyrotechnics worthy of rock concerts, against a soundtrack of resolutely un-Shazam-able origins. On Friday night, out back of Les Invalides, the music of the newer-than-new band Embrasse Moi, composed especially for the show, belted out as a panorama of bevelled mirror slowly lowered to the floor, a female figure poised, motionless, in the middle.
It was a hell of an entrance. The really remarkable thing, however, were the clothes she was wearing: and it takes a lot to overshadow a woman lowered to earth in a gravity-defying vitrine. Slimane sent out his Celine woman dressed in pleated culottes, a sharp-shoulder blazer, a deftly knotted silk scarf, knee-high boots. In short, Slimane had changed the record. It was invigorating, energising, engaging — and, possibly, the best show of his career to date.
The looks were akin to Celine past — not recent but, rather, Seventies Celine, when the label was known for dressing French women with a horsey, thoroughbred respectability, and its boutiques first propagated worldwide. Flick through an old issue of French Vogue or L’Officiel and you’ll see Celine women in tweeds and cashmere sweaters and pussy-bow silk blouses printed with chains. The Celine monogram originated then — an entwined pair of Cs based on links in the chain fence that circles the Arc de Triomphe. Slimane has used it on a bag. That Arc borders on the 16th arrondissement of Paris, whose tony enclaves were the stomping-ground of that original Celine woman — while her counterpart in London spent her time ranging around Sloane Square. In short, she’s bourgeois.
The compelling thing — always — about Slimane’s vision is its absolute precision. Volte-face or not, this Celine look was utterly convincing. It was also, perhaps, not as far from his past as it may seem. Maybe Slimane’s first Celine collection in September was actually, somehow, an ending rather than a new start, rounding off the aesthetic he established during his Saint Laurent tenure, of Danceteria party dresses executed with a couture flair. That collection, entering stores worldwide right about now, was titled “Paris La Nuit”. Couldn’t this just be the daytime wardrobe of the same woman?
Woman. There’s a great word to use. If sometimes Slimane’s clothes have seemed squarely aimed at the resoundingly youthful — a notion specifically cited by Bernard Arnault, chief executive of Celine’s owner LVMH, when the designer’s appointment was announced last January — there was a maturity to this idea of a Celine woman. Sure, the models remained young — aren’t they just about everywhere? But the clothes cut a wider swath in terms of both their fit, and their appeal. There were easy capes, high boots, cardigan-suits in sequins, draped silk dresses, brief tailored bombers, fantastic trenchcoats. Women strode forward, hands thrust in pockets, bags practically slung on shoulders. Everything flowed. There was a power to these clothes — and to the women wearing them. They could get stuff done.
Why all the conjecture and over analysis? Plainly-put, these clothes looked great — expertly tailored, in expensive fabrics, with an aesthetic identity perfectly honed and polished. They were in such good taste, they floored you, made you want to use old-fashioned words to describe them, such as “chic”, which they were. They look like how people will want to dress. They were satisfying, and commercial in the best possible sense — which is, eminently desirable. If this collection was a record, it would be a hit — a hit, full of future greatest hits.
Jo Ellison will be hosting the FT’s Business of Luxury Summit in Madrid on May 19-21. For more information visit ftbusinessofluxury.com
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