PARIS — Hedi Slimane once again electrified the fashion industry — and practically trumped the Paris men’s shows — by revealing on Sunday that he would join Céline on Feb. 1, and extend the brand into men’s wear, couture and fragrance.
“I am enchanted, what a great choice,” enthused Karl Lagerfeld, one of Slimane’s most enthusiastic fans, who famously shed 90 pounds in order to shimmy into the designer’s skinny threads. “It will be great.”
LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, parent of Céline, disclosed the high-profile hire first to WWD on Sunday as the men’s shows drew to a close, with couture taking up the international spotlight from today.
Slimane has been on fashion’s sidelines since April 2016, when he wrapped up a celebrated, and controversial, four-year tenure at Yves Saint Laurent, which he rechristened Saint Laurent and propelled past one billion euros in sales.
Céline is already on the cusp of that revenue threshold and it is understood LVMH believes it can at least double the size of the house, fueled by Slimane’s fame, design chops and a broadening of the product universe.
The first freestanding Céline men’s wear stores are expected bow as early as 2019, adding to a global network that already counts 150 women’s locations.
Retailers are already chomping at the bit.
“Genius move on the part of Céline,” said Daniella Vitale, president and chief executive officer of Barneys New York. “We have had a lot of success with Hedi over the years and the introduction of men’s wear at Céline is an incredible opportunity at Barneys.”
Paolo de Cesare, ceo of Printemps, said the “unexpected” appointment of Slimane “confirms the great innovation drive of luxury and fashion brands at a time when the customer base is shifting to a new Millennial generation and to a more experiential and digital consumption of luxury.”
Jeffrey Kalinsky, designer fashion director at Nordstrom and president of Jeffrey, said his dismay over Phoebe Philo’s exit from Céline, revealed last month, was replaced by elation.
“I think whoever has Hedi is a very lucky brand. He has never done anything but bring success,” Kalinsky said in an interview. “I think he’s going to do a brilliant job.”
The retailer said he first discovered Slimane as a shopper. He happened across the Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche Homme store on Greene Street in Manhattan’s SoHo in 1998 and ended up nearly emptying the rails, plunking down about $100,000.
He followed Slimane as a wholesale and personal client through his Dior Homme tenure from 2000 to 2007, and picking up later when the designer arrived back at YSL, from 2012 to 2016.
“He was so successful for men and women across all categories,” Kalinsky said. “Hedi’s range is much broader than perhaps some people realize because I’ve witnessed it through the years.”
One of fashion’s pre-eminent image-makers and trendsetters, Slimane debuted skinny tailoring when he arrived at Dior Homme, setting in motion a trend that reverberates still.
Given that Céline has no men’s wear heritage beyond a few silk shirts printed with its chain motif, the designer could take the brand anywhere.
Lagerfeld said Slimane has the chance to reinvent men’s wear “in his way.”
To be sure, the Frenchman has a track record of fanning cool and attracting youth, tapping into the energy of the music and art scenes in a variety of cool cities, from London and Berlin to Los Angeles, which he has called home since 2008.
According to sources, Slimane is to maintain his base in California and lead creation from there, while shuttling frequently to Paris, where Céline is headquartered. In 2014, the company united several offices in a 17th-century mansion on the Rue Vivienne with a cobblestone courtyard, grand stone staircase, intricately carved ceiling beams — and extensive ateliers for ready-to-wear and leather goods.
As Céline’s artistic, creative and image director, Slimane will have a 360-degree purview over the fashion house, one of the largest in the LVMH Fashion Group, a stable that includes the brands Givenchy, Kenzo, Loewe, Marc Jacobs, Pucci, Rossi Moda and Nicholas Kirkwood.
He is to unveil his first fashion proposition for men and women next September during Paris Fashion Week.
His appointment at Céline marks a major homecoming for Slimane, who cemented his reputation at Dior Homme. He went on to reinvent and ignite the Kering-owned house of Saint Laurent — all the while maintaining a close rapport with the Arnault family, which controls LVMH and Dior.
In a twist of fate, Slimane will be reunited with Sidney Toledano, the legendary ceo of Dior, who recruited the designer to propel the storied couture house into men’s fashion.
Toledano is to relinquish his role next month to Pietro Beccari, who is joining Dior from Fendi, and will become chairman and ceo of LVMH Fashion Group.
“I am particularly happy that Hedi is back within the LVMH group and taking the creative reins of our Céline maison,” said Bernard Arnault, chairman and ceo of LVMH, calling Slimane “one of the most talented designers of our time.”
“I have been a great admirer of his work since we collaborated on Dior Homme, which he launched to global acclaim in the 2000s. His arrival at Céline reinforces the great ambitions that LVMH has for this maison. Hedi will oversee all creativity for both women’s and men’s fashion, but also for leather goods, accessories and fragrances. He will leverage his global vision and unique esthetic virtuosity in further building an iconic French maison,” Arnault added.
Founded in 1945 by Céline Vipiana and based initially on shoes, Céline has been part of the LVMH stable since 1996, and has seen its ups and downs. While American Michael Kors revved up the house when he was at the design helm from 1997 to 2004, it struggled to reclaim that buzz under former Burberry designer Roberto Menichetti and Prada Group alum Ivana Omazic.
Philo, whose hip yet girlish clothes and coveted bags catapulted Chloé into the designer big leagues, ignited a new renaissance when she arrived in 2008.
To be sure, Slimane’s Céline designs for men are sure to attract keen interest from retailers and fashion fans alike — while perhaps sparking anxiety among some of his designer colleagues in men’s wear.
His appointment underscores LVMH’s growing ambitions for the sector, having added men’s apparel to its Berluti brand in 2012, while also pushing men’s wear at Dior Homme, Louis Vuitton and now Givenchy, where new artistic director Clare Waight Keller, presenting her first couture line on Tuesday, plans to parade designs for women and men.
LVMH has a designer vacancy at Vuitton given Kim Jones’ departure after his final men’s show last week.
In a statement, Slimane said he is “delighted to join Bernard Arnault in this all-embracing and fascinating mission for Céline. I greatly look forward to returning to the exciting world of fashion and the dynamism of the ateliers.”
Philo announced her resignation from the brand last December after her fruitful and acclaimed 10-year tenure, during which she reinvented the label in her image and made it a watchword for sleek designs crackling with currency.
It is understood she will not work for another brand in the near future and the fall 2018 collection, to be unveiled in March, will be the last she crafted. Under her leadership, Céline enjoyed a high-minded, adult allure and sparked a new wave of minimalism and modernism beginning with her debut collection in 2009.
Slimane is said to be appreciative of Céline’s ultra-luxurious leather goods and sumptuous yet severe stores, though he has an expansive remit to take the brand into new directions — in tandem with an investment phase.
He is expected to eventually offer made-to-measure designs — in the manner of couture but without big fashion shows — as he did while at Saint Laurent.
It is understood his first fragrance for the brand could be ready before the end of the year. While Slimane did not have purview over beauty during his Saint Laurent tenure, much to his chagrin — that business is controlled by licensing partner L’Oréal — he had a broad influence at Dior Homme, introducing several fragrances, overhauling classic ones, and devising a complete skin-care range in 2006 called Dermo System that in some ways foreshadowed the recent craze for doctor brands.
“Hedi Slimane is an exceptional designer, complete artist and passionate about his work,” Toledano commented in a statement. “I am certain that he will bring his renowned creative energy and discipline to lead Céline to even greater success.”
Last year, LVMH recruited Berluti’s Séverine Merle to take the management helm of Céline and lead it, a longtime luxury holdout, into online selling. Merle, who worked under Berluti chairman Antoine Arnault, is a veteran of LVMH, having worked at its flagship Vuitton brand as its general manager for France and women’s wear merchandising director.
Slimane’s career path in some ways echoes Philo’s. He took an extended break from fashion after exiting Dior Homme while Philo made her fashion comeback at Céline in 2008 after a three-year sabbatical.
An art history graduate from the École du Louvre, Slimane emerged from fashion’s shadows during his first stint at YSL. Hired as an assistant in fashion marketing at YSL in 1997 and then quickly promoted to designer, Slimane successfully heated up the label’s Rive Gauche Homme collection with sleek, androgynous tailoring: leather trenchcoats, pinch-waist suits and plunging shirts. The late Pierre Bergé was among his most ardent supporters.
He was a pioneer in inviting contemporary artists such as Ugo Rondinone to put works in YSL stores, positing his clothes in a broader cultural context.
Slimane resigned from YSL in 2000 to pursue exclusive negotiations with its parent, then known as Gucci Group, for the launch of his own label. He ended up signing on with luxury rival Dior, embarking on an ambitious project that enlivened men’s wear with his glitzy fashion shows and minimalist boutiques.
He exited that brand in 2007 and pursued a photography and art career before returning to the fashion fold in 2012 at Saint Laurent.
His departure proved acrimonious in the end, with Slimane launching several lawsuits against his former employer which are believed to be ongoing.