Chez Céline: Hedi Slimane is Back; and so is Sidney Toledano
He’s back! In a really major surprise, LVMH announced Sunday the return to Paris of Hedi Slimane to take over the creative direction of Céline, in what amounts to a brilliant counter stroke.
Ever since he quit his position as creative director of Yves Saint Laurent in 2016, Slimane’s has been the most sought after designer in fashion. And has been so while in exile, seeing as this uniquely talented individual has based himself in Los Angeles.
The move will also ultimately unite Slimane with Sidney Toledano, his former boss during Hedi’s tenure as designer of Dior Homme, while Toledano was the CEO of Christian Dior Couture, the star fashion brand within the LVMH luxe conglomerate. If, indeed, any executive can ever properly say they are truly the boss of the notoriously demanding Slimane.
Most tellingly, the news comes just six weeks after the announcement that Toledano was retiring after a 20-year tenure from Dior to become president of LVMH Fashion Group, which includes Givenchy, Kenzo and Loewe. Though by far the two most important are Fendi in Rome and Paris is Céline. Now instead of being perceived as, in part, an executive being given a comfort post to glide into retirement, Toledano will oversee the hottest French designer of his generation. Talk about an immediate executive rebound.
Slimane, in turn, succeeds Phoebe Philo, widely rumored to be on her way to Burberry to follow Christopher Bailey, the gentlemanly Englishman who quit the UK house in October.
To her credit, Philo built Céline into a highly profitable label with an aesthetic that appealed to artfully informed career women. Her shows were must-see events, with spectacular custom-made sets and she set cash registers ringing with hyper successful trapeze and bucket bags.
Aesthetically, however, few designers could be further apart than the proto feminist Philo known for her forgiving cut and silhouettes and Slimane, the master of micro tailoring and the inventor of the skinny suit in menswear.
Slimane first rose to prominence designing menswear for Yves Saint Laurent in the late 90s; before leaving due to differences with that house’s then creative director Tom Ford.
Then, in a period of intense creativity, he became the first menswear designer to achieve the status of a rock star at Dior Homme, when everyone from David Bowie to Mick Jagger attended his shows.
Ultimately, Slimane quit Dior precisely because he was not given more creative control – specifically of Dior Homme’s scent and cosmetics advertising. Dior, lest we forget, offered what well informed insiders say, was path-breakingly remunerative contract with extra performance bonuses to keep Slimane. A contract that Toledano himself drafted. Yet Hedi still quit that house and went off to concentrate on photography for the best part of five years before coming back to fashion.
Though this time as designer of Yves Saint Laurent, the key French house within the constellation of luxury marques owned by Kering – LVMH’s deadliest corporate rival. Which Slimane promptly Saint Laurent, and whose revenues he tripled to over one billion euros in barely three years.
Once again, however, Slimane skipped out of the position – even though Kering were flexible enough to let Slimane base his studio in Los Angeles, nine time zones away from Paris – unheard of before in high fashion.
So, now he has returned and with the grandest of all titles yet seen granted to a creative talent by a major luxury grouping. Slimane is now Artistic, Creative and Image Director of Céline, in charge of directing “all Céline collections, extending to men’s fashion, couture and fragrances.”
So, two years after existing the stage with the briefest of bows after his only couture collection for Saint Laurent in a Left Bank mansion expensively renovated for him by Kering, Slimane is back.
Throughout this past decade, designers and indeed fashionistas have widely lamented the growing corporate power and influence in creation within our industry. Where designers are moved about like so many chess pieces, their tenure uncertain, their careers more akin to mere professional sportsmen and not the artists they perceive themselves to be.
So, mark this down as a major victory for designers. And not a bad one for Sidney Toledano either.
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