Viewers of Hedi Slimane’s fashion shows know what to expect. There’s the storm of young and skinny models, many of whom have no facility for walking in high heels; there’s the dark venue throbbing with the music of a fairly new band. I saw my first Slimane shows in the late ’90s, when he was designing men’s at Yves Saint Laurent. In principle, there was little difference between these shows and his Celine show in February 2020. You felt him trying to dominate with his vision of youth, largely by closing down the frame and shutting out any unnecessary light.
So it was curious to see the film of his new women’s collection. It opens with a drone shot of the blue Mediterranean, then a pan of Monaco’s famous, yacht-filled harbor and some of the most expensive real estate on the planet. Next, the camera zooms over a manicured green space, makes several quick rotations, and then, like a giddy bumblebee, hovers in front of a beautiful woman before it finally pulls back to reveal our location — a sports stadium (minus, of course, the spectators).
The pandemic forced Slimane to innovate, as it has most designers. In July, he showed Celine’s men’s collection on a racetrack in southern France. But the move outside isn’t just convenience. I’ve had the feeling that he has struggled to get his bearings at Celine. He can probably do Celine’s brand of classy bourgeois dressing in his sleep — the blazers, the ruffled shirts, the pleated skirts. That’s not the problem. The problem — and I’m just guessing here — is how to translate a vernacular French style to an audience to whom social and sartorial nuances matter less and less. I read somewhere that the attention span of Gen-Z people is eight seconds, on average, compared to 12 seconds for millennials. One of Slimane’s strengths is his understanding of the Zeitgeist. I think that accounts for the simplified approach he took at Saint Laurent when he was creative director of the whole brand (from 2012 to 2016). He knew that people could only process so much information. Also, the clothes had to be sexy.
We all know that the pace of change has drastically accelerated. One consequence is that the fashion industry cannot nurture, much less sustain, new creative talent — because of the shortening of development time. Consumers also relate to different things. Celine recently hired a TikTok star to be a “face” of its advertising, and on its Instagram on Monday there were almost as many mentions of Lisa — the Blackpink singer and now Celine ambassador — as there were of Slimane.
For me, this latest show signaled a small but crucial shift. The styling of the clothes was younger, with the blazers and boucle jackets now worn with cropped tops, hoodies, and branded track shorts. At the same time, a lot of the classic looks could be worn by a woman of any age. The slinky dresses were way cooler than they have been in the past; more skin showed; and Slimane paired everything with sneakers, ballerina flats, or hiking boots.
Ah, the models could walk!
I don’t know if this collection represented “a portrait of a generation,” as the press notes touted. More to the point, I think the sporty element offers Slimane a way to make contact with a younger generation, which remains the game in fashion. And I must say I loved the sky-high view of Monaco. It initially read like the teaser for a reality show about the lives of the mega rich, before settling into the stadium and the models on the track. Still, the message was conveyed.