Could Celine be the new red carpet hit brand? That is, the new Celine by Hedi Slimane, the controversial designer who caused a furore when his first collection hit the catwalk in Paris last September. You may remember the painfully thin, youth-obsessed casting of models who stomped down the runway in knicker-grazing dresses and whippet-thin trouser suits. You may also remember the context of the debacle: he’d taken over from Phoebe Philo, the British designer beloved for her grown-up solution dressing that celebrated understated luxury, which he replaced with his sharp, angular, skinny aesthetic that seemed to annoy the entire fashion world and beyond.
Well, looking at recent red carpets at the Golden Globes and the recent Critics’ Choice Awards is proof that fashion can woo and evolve at warp speed. Where Phoebe’s Céline was far from a celebrity go-to at step-and-repeats, Hedi’s Celine is proving a hit with everyone from Lady Gaga to Emma Stone, Saoirse Ronan, Natalie Portman, Lupita Nyong’o, Rachel Weisz, Amber Heard, Naomi Watts, Claire Foy and many more. And, you know what, seen on familiar ‘real’ bodies, glowing with health, these clothes look undeniably awesome. For ‘real’, read: daily gym workouts, in-house chefs, flash-bulb lighting and glam teams galore. But still.
It’s an interesting move from red-carpet dressers. Many of these stars were those who, last year, joined the Time’s Up movement, coming together as one at the Golden Globes blackout, when they turned fashion into a politicised tool with and female empowerment – something that hardly corresponds with Hedi’s first catwalk aesthetic. But don’t blame them. Why would any of these actors be aware of the controversy of his debut? And if there’s one thing Hedi makes in spades, it’s black clothes. As he told French newspaper Le Figaro in his only interview last season: “Black is sharp and straightforward. It is inseparable from my fashion style and my photography… We go through hundreds of samples in our research to find the perfect black jacket or the perfect little black dress.”
It also begs the question: were we too fast to judge Hedi? Too eager to condemn him as the arch-villain of the fashion world? I think so. By all accounts, he is only too happy to adapt and reﬁne his catwalk vision for the red carpet. Note how Rachel Weisz’s long black gown with a cloud of white rufﬂes was adapted from the original micro-mini dress catwalk offering. “I saw the runway version of the Hedi Slimane dress in the showroom in Paris months ago and thought it could be a perfect look for her,” celebrity stylist Kate Young told American Vogue online. “The white rufﬂes remind me of a ’70s kitten, which is precisely how I like to think of Rachel. The way it would frame her skin, hair and shoulders just seemed ideal. A month or so ago, I called Peter from Celine’s press ofﬁce and asked if we could make that look into a gown. We tried it before the holiday in New York and it looked absolutely magical."
He also custom-built looks, such as Claire Foy’s sparkling black one-shouldered top, that never even appeared on the runway; it was made bespoke for her and worn with Hedi’s signature tuxedo trousers. And let’s not forget the celebrities with the new Celine bags – from Gaga, who debuted Hedi’s ﬁrst bag for the brand on her Instagram in October (“I gave her this bag in private as a present, because she’s a long-time friend,” he told Le Figaro), to Angelina Jolie, now endlessly toting hers around LA.
All of this Celine spotting in real life provides a balance to his controversial shows – and keeps us intrigued, watching and commenting (think of the free advertising!). It’s clever. He’s clever. And it’s a formula that smacks of commercial gold – something he achieved in his past job at Saint Laurent and the goal he is charged with at Celine, to double or treble revenues of Dhs3.4bn.
The celebrity-to-consumer trickle-down effect will be enormous, says e-com site 24 Sèvres’ Buying Director Maud Barrionuevo. “Celebrity endorsement always helps with driving trafﬁc to products, especially in fashion and luxury. The 16 bag from Celine’s new collection (ﬁrst seen on Gaga) continues to receive the most visits since we launched it.”
It is unlikely that Hedi will change his catwalk vision of strung-out youth: “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.” He may even switch the youth-infatuation volume up a notch. Whatever, he’s got our attention.
Photos: Getty images, Rex Features and Jason Lloyd Evans