The Business of Fashion
Agenda-setting intelligence, analysis and advice for the global fashion community.
Agenda-setting intelligence, analysis and advice for the global fashion community.
Since his appointment as the artistic director of Celine, Hedi Slimane has not said a word to the press. His first fashion show for the LVMH-owned brand, which will take place at Les Invalides on Friday evening, is one of the most anticipated of the Spring/Summer 2019 shows. He spoke to the French newspaper Le Figaro about his life, his inspirations and what he has in mind for the brand.
His surprise appointment at the helm of the house, which was founded in 1945 by Céline Vipiana, propelled the French designer into the spotlight again. His first Celine collection, which will be shown in Paris on September 28, is one of the most anticipated of the Spring/Summer 2019 season, as it marks the designer's return to fashion two years after leaving Saint Laurent.
A visionary, Slimane draws his creative strength from his passion for photography, fashion and the rock scene. It is a way for the former student of hypokhâgne (a two-year programme after secondary school graduation specialising in literature and humanities), who dreamt of being a journalist, to "document" the era, as he says, with skin-deep images and silhouettes.
Le Figaro: You are returning to fashion after a two-year absence. How do you feel about this comeback?
Hedi Slimane: I am delighted to come back to a French house, the tradition, the métiers, the ateliers. Paris is very specific when it comes to "handmade," which is incredibly chic. Beyond the brilliant virtuosity of the ateliers, this savoir-faire corresponds to a state of mind, a way of operating, the immediate smartness of a model, a particular feeling that can only be found in Paris.
LF: You have been living in the United States for 10 years now. Are you starting a new life in Europe?
LF: How do you extend your Californian chronicle?
LF: Has the fact that the house of Celine was located in a 17th-century Parisian hôtel particulier been crucial?
LF: How did you reorganise the ateliers?
HS: It was essential to strengthen the ateliers and to add a tailoring atelier for the men's and women's collections, by extension. We also brought on the expertise of pattern making and draping for eveningwear and couture. Everything was done very organically.
LF: To what extent does your vision differ from Phoebe Philo’s?
HS: Our respective styles are identifiable and very different. Our vision is naturally distinct. Besides, you don't enter a fashion house to imitate the work of your predecessor, much less to take over the essence of their work, their codes and elements of their language. The goal is not to go the opposite way of their work either. It would be a misinterpretation. Respect is to preserve the integrity of everyone, to recognise things that belong to another person with honesty and discernment.
At Celine, the weight of the past is not as strong as at Dior or Saint Laurent. We can break free of it more easily.
A designer is someone who expresses himself authentically through what he feels. Each has his way to tell about his time. My perception of fashion has always been influenced by a certain classicism and the legacy of couture, the spirit of Paris, where I was born and grew up, day and night.
I found my style more than 20 years ago, unless it's the other way around. It passes through a line, a stroke, an appearance, a silhouette that I have been obsessively pursuing since then and that defines who I am. It belongs to me, and in return, I am compelled to it.
Consistency, rigour, accuracy — this is what is meaningful to me. I want the integrity of this route. It will perpetuate at Celine. It's a lifelong story. The idea is not to derogate from my style, from what made me. I also defend a French fashion mindset that is almost formal and is linked to my youth, to what I was taught, to the people I have met — Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé, when I first started in my years at Dior.
LF: Cities have always been important to you — Berlin (Dior Homme), London (for its punk rock scene), Los Angeles for Saint Laurent and “California Song,” the exhibition that took place at the Moca in 2011. Why is Paris an inspiring city?
I love Paris by night. I grew up between the smoke of Le Palace and the white tiles of Les Bains-Douches. It's a pity that the city is eager to close down interesting places like those and turn its back on Parisian nights. The lights still remain, though. The magic of the street lamps, the neons in the cafés, the sparkling Parisian youth and the energy of the streets.
LS: How do you perceive the brand itself?
LF: How do you create an emotional point of view in a world dominated by the "botoxed digital revolution" that you have previously denounced?
LF: Do the reactions caused by the accent being removed from the Celine logo remind you of when “Yves” was dropped from Saint Laurent? Why is there this almost obsessive desire to graphically mark your territory?
You don't shake things up by avoiding making waves. When there is no debate, it means there is no opinion — the definition of blind conformity.
LF: Your aesthetic has often been characterised as being androgynous, or, more precisely, as ambisexual. Can you redefine it within a context where fashion embraces mixed collections and inclusivity is on the rise?
LF: The black colour that every major couturier or artistic director expresses his difference through, has become almost standardised. Tell us about your relationship with black.
LF: How did your childhood define you?
HS: I was always surrounded by fabric. Sitting on rolls of flannel, I would wait for my mother for hours on end. As a child, I would rather have been playing in the park than at the Marché Saint-Pierre. When I was a teenager, everything was always too big on me. With a few exceptions — the Ivy League blazers that I bought at flea markets in the mid 1980s, the Savile Row suits that I found in Notting Hill when I was 18 — it was impossible to find the perfect jacket. I would float in everything. All the clothes were "boxy."
My mum knew how to cut jackets "au chic" without a pattern. The ones she would tailor for me were perfect. I come from a family of tailors from Pescaro, in the Abruzzo region of Italy. Maybe doing this job is a way of endlessly continuing this family tradition.
LF: There are just a few pictures posted on Celine's Instagram, yet you've already managed to create a buzz...
HS: These are first impressions, a portrait gallery, that of a generation. The photographic portrait always precedes the fashion I create. I'm not sensitive to beauty, but to energy and personality. I have girls and boys that come every day to try out and become our new models: they are our accomplices. I admire them and their presence is crucial.
Casting is the key to everything. Designers are nothing without their models.
Casting is the key to everything. Designers are nothing without their models. I see them as artists. They have the capacity to transform, transcend, give life and accuracy to our creations. If a dress that I particularly love doesn’t have a body that wears it, it won’t make it onto the catwalk because it’s not embodied. This Celine project is a collective adventure, a community of strong personalities. It’s team work: that of the studio, the ateliers and the models.
LF: Nowadays, youth seems to be hypnotised by the notion of millennials, generation 2.0… What is your definition of youth?
HS: I have always photographed, documented and dressed the youth. It's been at the heart of everything I've done so far, in photography and fashion. It reigns on my catwalks, house after house. This recurrent millennial term, used like a business school lesson, described with statistics and numbers, is boring. The youth before was no less interesting and engaged than this one, and the youth after will be just as important. It's as if we have just discovered the tenuous and fundamental link between youth and fashion or the link between youth and music. This makes perfect sense, with or without the internet and social media.
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. I think about "Tricheurs" by Marcel Carné and the "Chansons d'Amour" by Christophe Honoré. All the youths of the world are different and yet they are alike. No matter the time in history, they are this pure energy, the exaltation of every moment and the emotion of the skin, living their lives at full speed.
LF: What about Lady Gaga, who has 29.5 million followers on Instagram and sparked excitement all over the internet with your first Celine bag?
LF: Like her, you suffer from a particular illness. Can you tell us about what you go through every day?
At first it got out of control, and I went through a very dark period, with phases of anxiety that were difficult to bear. The unthinkable idea of no longer knowing silence was unbearable to me. It was a spiral, a daily suffering. Thank God, my friends and loved ones have been really helpful. I managed to get up again and handle this pain every day. It's about learning to live with it.
LF: What is your ultimate luxury?
LF: What is your definition of style?
LF: What is your relationship with social media today?
Will the next social networks evolve towards a new realism where there will be no alterations and touch ups? I realise how difficult it must be to grow up in a world of "likes" when we're not the most popular girl or boy in school. Will the popularity contest smooth out the differences?
LF: What is your motto?
This interview was originally published in Le Figaro. Translation by Khadija Belmaaziz.