The mood ahead of Sunday night’s Celine show, the last one on the final day of a damp and cold Paris fashion week, was always going to be fraught.
Almost a year has passed since Hedi Slimane was sworn in as the artistic director of the French fashion house, and just a few months have elapsed since he showed a womenswear collection that raised hemlines and in doing so, razed its no-nonsense, thinking woman’s aesthetic to the ground, prompting reviews that read like obituaries and the Hollywood Reporter comparing him to Donald Trump.
The difference on Sunday night was that Celine has no real history of menswear. Armed with this carte blanche, whether Slimane himself was as fraught as the fans was, it turned out, a moot point. The cheer as he bowed at the conclusion of the show suggested there had been no need to worry at all.
The show consisted of 66 looks and was about two things: coats primarily, and a switching up of the slender Slimane aesthetic with another vision; one which played with colour, print, silhouette and shape. Catwalk music came from Canadian post-punk band, Crack Cloud, and the show closed with a performance by 1970s no wave saxophonist, James Chance.
A history of modern coats played out on the catwalk, from slick camel overcoats, sweeping tweed versions and cashmere trenchcoats to parkas, a duffle coat and a thigh-length shearling coat. Their palette was rich and varied, at times clashing deliberately with the rest of the looks. They were few matching suits. Instead, jackets were loose, double breasted, or absent altogether. Shirts came in white, both with and without skinny ties. There was even preppy knitwear ,and a few knitted scarves.
Trouser shapes were equally varied, running slender or bloated, the only uniform finish being the length: virtually all of them hovered a few inches above patent brogues or tight ankle boots. Most surprising was perhaps a pair of jeans, which came workman-like with a folded hem, and bordered on practical. At its heart, the overall look was still rooted in a sort of late 1970s or early 1980s New York art rock, with nods to Richard Hell and Tom Verlaine, a pre-Berlin David Bowie, and even Robert Mapplethorpe. But it was designed for men of all seasons.
Since joining the brand, criticism had been levelled at the designer for simply grafting ‘Brand Slimane’ – slimline suits created in his own image, as seen in the women’s collection last year – on to Celine. It was a look he had cultivated with success during his stints at Dior Homme and Saint Laurent, but which some critics felt seemed dated by 2018.
The feeling on Sunday was that he had since read the room. And there were clues. By fashion standards, the show started on time. And while it opened with a black suit, it was almost baggy by his standards
It wasn’t a complete departure, though. There was a panoply of dark glasses, and casting that was still relatively scant on diversity (even if a third of the models were redheads). Plus, the designer had cast a handful of promising British indie bands such as Lady Bird and Ugly to walk in the show – a flashback to his Dior spring/summer 2004 collection when almost the entire show was cast with and soundtracked by musicians.
According to the show notes, Slimane said the vision had been in train since the 00s, when he was travelling between Los Angeles and London and listening to emerging British bands. He described the collection as “a Polaroid snapshot of this young British creative community”.
Slimane’s success at Celine remains to be seen. During his three years at Saint Laurent, it’s thought he doubled the company’s profits. Dior and Louis Vuitton have hired the biggest names in fashion to oversee their menswear – and with that category set to outperform women’s in 2022 – it is hoped Slimane will do the same for Celine.
Like several shows this week (including the Celine women’s show), this one took place in a specially constructed branded box. However, this one had a new set piece: a giant flashing modular orb, and a giant window with a view of the Place de la Concorde and the Eiffel Tower. It turned the catwalk into a pavement, so we could imagine the clothes in the real world, but also meant the show could probably be seen by those outside. A reminder, perhaps, that it’s not just the critics that matter.