PARIS — When Hedi Slimane joined Celine in February, the first thing he did was design a new bag.
It was a smart move, considering accessories make up an estimated 65 percent of the brand’s revenues and its owner, French luxury titan Bernard Arnault, had touted the arrival of the “global superstar” designer as heralding a doubling or tripling of Celine’s turnover within five years.
Fortunately, creating accessories is an exercise Slimane relishes. The designer, who previously drove skyrocketing sales at Saint Laurent and Dior Homme, named his debut Celine creation the 16, after the location of the brand’s headquarters and atelier in a 17th-century mansion at 16 Rue Vivienne here.
Marking the house’s first official comment on the Slimane era, Séverine Merle, chief executive officer of Celine, discussed the linchpin launch exclusively with WWD. “The 16 handbag is the ultimate symbol of Hedi Slimane’s vision for Celine: it emphasizes our knowledge of incredible craftsmanship,” she said.
The French house, which has shut down its e-commerce site in the countdown to Slimane’s debut show on Sept. 28, plans to unveil a redesigned platform in early October carrying a capsule of Slimane’s new collection for women and men, alongside a selection of current season merchandise, designed by a team before his arrival.
The redesign will coincide with the launch of e-commerce in the U.S., it said. Since introducing online sales in France nine months ago, Celine has established local versions of the site in the United Kingdom, Italy and Germany.
The 16, available in three sizes and a range of colors, is due to go on sale Nov. 12. The Sixties-inspired style is one of three new handbag lines Slimane plans to launch this fall to sit alongside some of the pillars introduced by his predecessor Phoebe Philo during her 10-year tenure at the house.
Although it has not been confirmed which existing models will remain on sale, carryover styles are expected to include the Belt, the Luggage and the Box bags.
Since Lady Gaga was seen carrying the 16 on Instagram on Aug. 30, becoming the first celebrity to wear Slimane’s new Celine designs, the house has been flooded with inquiries, suggesting the prolific designer has scored another hit — even before showing a single stitch of clothing.
He is close friends with the singer and has worked with her on creative projects, including the cover of her “Fame Monster” album. Angelina Jolie has also been spotted with the bag in recent weeks. Slimane shot the actress and humanitarian for a U.S. Elle cover in 2014, and has taken portraits of Jolie privately with her family.
With its classic design, the 16 reflects the heritage of the house, with details such as a cropped flap and gently rounded sides nodding to some of Celine’s historic bags from the Sixties. Merle underlined the painstaking process of designing the bag.
“To achieve this level of perfection, Hedi pushed our team and asked them to deliver their best: despite drawing the 16 on the day of his arrival, it took our team more than six months to achieve the final version, meticulously developing each detail and testing the most luxurious skins to find the perfect leather,” she explained.
Some 100 leather tests were necessary to finalize the design, which marks a shift toward a Parisian aesthetic for the house’s handbags, as well as the return of hardware within Celine’s leather goods assortment. The padlock dangling from the bag can be used to fasten the zipper on one of its inside compartments.
“Judging by the high level of advance inquiries, he has laid the foundation for a future iconic classic,” the executive predicted.
The bag will come in a range of materials: satinated calfskin in five colors; grained calfskin in five colors, and natural calfskin, with prices ranging from 2,900 euros to 3,500 euros. There are exotic leather versions, including one in a glossy black porosus crocodile skin, with prices available on demand — think five figures.
Other styles will echo more strongly Slimane’s fashion vision for the label, which he has been unveiling via a series of campaign images, featuring a cast of androgynous young artists, musicians and models, published on social media and displayed in key cities, via activations including a flyposting campaign in London.
On Sept. 2, the brand wiped clean its Instagram page and revealed a new logo — minus the accent on the first “e” — that generated the same kind of frenzied debate as Slimane’s decision in 2012 to change the name of the Yves Saint Laurent ready-to-wear line to Saint Laurent Paris.
In addition to introducing men’s wear, the designer has been charged with leading Celine into couture and fragrance, with a first scent expected in 2020, according to sources.
Arnault, the chairman and ceo of parent company LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, said earlier this year that sales at Celine are close to 1 billion euros. That places it just behind Fendi as among the group’s most powerful luxury brands, with Louis Vuitton and Christian Dior heading the pack.
“The objective with [Hedi Slimane] is to reach at least 2 billion to 3 billion euros, and perhaps more, within five years,” Arnault told analysts and reporters in January, after LVMH reported record results for 2017. “Everything is in place for this brand to achieve quite exceptional growth.”
LVMH is securing real estate to meet those ambitions. According to sources, Celine will open a men’s flagship on Rue François 1er in Paris, in the same space where the brand operated a “temporary” store for four years, before decamping to 53 Avenue Montaigne in 2014.
That Rue François-1er location, in a wedge-shaped building next to fashion canteen L’Avenue, is slated to open early next year in a storefront recently occupied by Dior Homme, which has taken up digs in the former Emilio Pucci location on Avenue Montaigne.
A new Celine flagship on Rue Duphot, just off the Rue Saint-Honoré, is also said to be in the works.