PARIS — Political intrigue. Suspense. Emotion. The men’s shows in Paris haven’t been this electric in years. Thank Hedi Slimane, whose debut Sunday as Dior’s men’s designer assumed historic proportions, particularly in light of the front-row lineup. Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Berge, absent from Tom Ford’s debut at Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche Homme Saturday night, led a standing ovation for Slimane, who cemented his fame as YSL’s men’s designer before he defected to Dior.
“Hedi is such an amazing talent, it’s a shame we couldn’t keep him,” Saint Laurent said. As Slimane took his bow, he planted only one kiss: on the cheek of Saint Laurent.
YSL veterans Betty Catroux and Catherine Deneuve were there, too, clapping next to Bernard Arnault, chairman of Christian Dior SA and LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton. The mind boggles at all the implications, given the very public war being waged between Gucci Group and LVMH, as well as the gulf that seems to be widening between the old-guard YSL crowd and the new regime.
And then there’s the duel shaping up at Dior itself. Yes, John Galliano is the women’s Dior designer, while Slimane’s mission is to energize its men’s image. But that hasn’t kept two from engaging in a very public game of “top this.” Last July, when Galliano sent grooms and gladiators down his couture runway, some saw a gauntlet being thrown down to the newly-arrived design star Slimane.
It’s clear Arnault is encouraging a little healthy competition at the house. On Sunday, Galliano arrived at the show escorting Cate Blanchett, dressed in a very men’s wear-looking tuxedo from his couture studio. But also in the audience were several key French fashion editors wearing feminized versions of Slimane’s men’s looks, which will be offered on a made-to-order basis to women. Deneuve said she’ll be a client. “I’ve worn his clothes in the past and he’s promised to do something new for me,” she said. “I loved the trench coats and the sleeveless shirts.”
Meanwhile, Karl Lagerfeld steered clear of the politics, remaining discreetly backstage to shoot pictures for several magazines, including Interview and Visionaire. “I never go to fashion shows. I’m working class,” he quipped. But having just shed 35 pounds, Lagerfeld is looking for a new wardrobe — and he said Slimane fits the bill. “I think I’ll get at least 20 pieces,” he said. “I like him a lot.”