Was Hedi Slimane's Celine Debut Saint Laurent 2.0?

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Lady Gaga attends Hedi Slimane's Spring 2019 debut for Celine

The designer who helped shift the industry’s sphere of influence to Los Angeles during his time leading the famed French fashion house of Saint Laurent, showed his first collection from his new perch at Celine.

Anyone who had a smidgen of doubt that Celine was going to be drastically different under Los Angeles designer Hedi Slimane lost it the moment they walked into the branded tent at Les Invalides on Thursday night at Paris Fashion Week, elbow-to-elbow with Lee Daniels, Gus Van Sant, Lady Gaga, Mark Ronson and other members of the designer's famous fan club.

The place was fall-down-on-your-face dark, with Celine-branded Champagne (Slimane unceremoniously dropped the accent over the first “e” in the name over the last few weeks) served in mini bottles to set the mood, quite a contrast to the brightly-lit Sunday afternoon shows Celine used to host at Paris’ Tennis Club.

Slimane’s Celine was inspired by “Paris La Nuit,” according to show notes on the seats for the 8:30 p.m. runway debut of the Saint Laurent wunderkind, who before he left that brand two years ago, made a mint for parent company Kering Group by bottling the rock 'n’ roll vibe of Chateau Marmont denizens into an edgy aesthetic. 

Now, he belongs to rival luxury firm LVMH, and on Thursday night he brought a similar aesthetic to Celine, a brand without the same hedonistic history as Saint Laurent. Even before the show, there had been much hand-wringing because Slimane replaced the influential female designer Phoebe Philo, who in her 10 years at the house of Celine put Joan Didion and other brainy women in ad campaigns, helped kick off the comfy shoe revolution by showing Vans-like slip-ons and furry Birkenstock-style sandals on the runway, and made must-have, minimalist and no-nonsense handbags, jackets and coats beloved by everyone from Veep’s Selena Meyer to Zoe Kravitz.

But in fashion, a name is just a name, so even though it seemed like LVMH was kissing off a whole client base by hiring such a drastically different talent, that's beside the point. Brands change hands all the time. Slimane was a cash cow at Kering, and no doubt his new bosses are seeing dollar signs in their eyes, especially since he will also be launching fragrance in his new role. (Some store buyers, on the other hand, seemed bewildered, not sure how they were going to make it work. "We can sell that green dress to that princess!" said one after the show, bemoaning how her store does not sell rock n' roll clothes.)

To Celine, Slimane brings considerable Hollywood clout, having tapped everyone from Courtney Love to Beck for ad campaigns during his tenure at Saint Laurent, and indeed, plenty of his famous fans came out to support him Thursday night, suggesting it’s his personal brand more than the Celine's, that will make this grand experiment work.

Unlike Philo, Slimane is also designing menswear, and he showed men and women together on the runway. After an opening bandleader drum solo (symbolic for Slimane marching to the beat of his own drummer, perhaps?), the looks came out in rapid fire, worn by models that were slightly less insouciant-looking than the street-cast groupies he favored at his last gig.

The first look, a dramatic sleeveless black-and-white polka-dot mini dress with oversized bow front detail, seemed remarkably Saint Laurent-like, but where Slimane once mined music stars, from California grunge, to ladies-of-the-canyon rich hippie, this was more bourgeoisie.

Sixties (and a few Eighties) silhouettes dominated, the babydoll dress was back with a vengeance (a reference to the Celine brand's heritage in children's wear?), and minis, barely skimming the upper thighs, were dusted in sequins, embellished with cutouts, and worn with zany lady hats and flat boots for extra cool. 

The menswear was more distinctive, and considering the growth potential in that market at the moment, and the designer’s history going back to Dior Homme, it is where he possibly has even more opportunity to move the needle. Slimane tweaked his signature slim-line aesthetic for a slightly more mature customer, with great-looking, high-waist pleated trousers and looser-fit blazers worn with skinny ties and narrow spread collar shirts. Skinny jeans were abandoned in favor of leather pants with a bit of give, under a cropped black bandleader jacket, or sleek metallic bomber jacket without too much embellishment, for an effect that was more art gallery owner, film director or box office star, than rock n’ roll upstart. 

Likewise, the most powerful of all the women’s exits were the simplest borrowed-from-the-boys looks; one paired pleated black trousers, a black blazer, white shirt and slim black necktie, bringing to mind Patti Smith's no-nonsense style. It is from this that one could see the germ of something new and gender-bending for now, not Saint Laurent by some other name, but Slimane making a new name for himself.