Hedi Slimane

PARIS — Hedi Slimane has given his first interview since his nomination at Celine to French daily newspaper Le Figaro. The famously discreet designer spoke to journalist Laurence Benaïm in Tuesday’s issue of the newspaper.

The interview comes days before his debut collection at Celine, which will be unveiled on Sept. 28 during Paris Fashion Week.

“I am delighted to come back to a French house, a tradition, professions, ateliers,” Slimane said. “Paris is the best at ‘handmade,’ which is incredibly chic. Beyond the virtuosity of the ateliers, this savoir-faire is due to a state of mind, a way of working, the immediate understanding of a model, a particular feeling that can only be found in Paris.”

He explains that an additional atelier has been added to the 17th-century mansion that houses Celine’s headquarters, the Hôtel Colbert de Torcy in the 2nd arrondissement, which will be dedicated to the creation of Celine’s first men’s wear line.

Upon arriving at Celine, Slimane chose to re-brand the maison by taking the French accent off the house’s name.

“It’s in no way about marking my territory, quite the contrary,” said the designer, adding that it was his way of “putting the church back at the center of the village. It’s orthodoxy, quite simply.”

He sees the accentless Celine as “installing elements of language, rooted in the original history of the house, its foundations, going back to an architectural and graphic alignment that is essential to the project.”

He continued: “There are always vivid reactions about logos, even more so nowadays due to the viral effect of social media. It’s normal. All this was anticipated, but it had to be done. The grandes maisons are alive. They must evolve and unearth the essence of their identity — everything but indifference. You don’t shake things up by avoiding to make waves. When there’s no debate, it means there’s no opinion, the definition of blind conformity.”

About succeeding designer Phoebe Philo, Celine’s creative director from 2008 to January 2018, Slimane acknowledged his difference to his predecessor. “Our respective styles are identifiable and very different. Our vision is naturally distinct. Besides, you don’t enter a fashion house to imitate your predecessor, much less to take over the essence of their work, their codes and elements of language,” he said.

This doesn’t mean a complete overhaul of the maison’s identity. “The goal is not to go the opposite way of their work either. It would be a misinterpretation,” Slimane added.

His Celine will be a “new chapter,” a deeply personal and respectful vision of the French brand’s heritage. “You arrive with a story, a culture, a personal language that are different from the defined ones of houses in which you create. You have to be yourself,” he said.

Slimane added that he was defending a “French mind-set” in tune with his early years in fashion and with “the people I have met, with Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé when I first started, with my time spent at Dior.”

The designer also talked about his childhood, a rare occurrence. He remembered always being surrounded with fabric: “Sitting on rolls of flannel, I would wait for my mother for hours on end. As a child, I would have rather have been playing in the park than at the Marché Saint-Pierre.”

His slim-cut style is a remnant of his teenage years. “When I was a teenager, everything was always to big for me,” confessed the designer. “Aside from a few exceptions — the Ivy League blazers that I bought at flea markets in the middle of the 1980s, the Savile Row suits that I found in Notting Hill when I was 18 — it was impossible to find the perfect jacket.

“I would float in everything. All the clothes were ‘boxy.’ My mother knew how to cut jackets ‘au chic,’ without a pattern. The ones that she would tailor for me were perfect. I descend from a family of tailors from Pescara, in the Abruzzo region of Italy. Maybe doing this job is a way of endlessly continuing this family tradition,” he said.

The interview ended on a personal note, with Slimane confessing he suffers from chronic tinnitus, a result of “post-traumatic stress disorder, non acoustic-related.” “It got out of hand at first, and I went through a very dark period, with unbearable anxiety phases,” the designer said. “Thinking I would never know silence again was both inconceivable and unbearable. It was a spiral, pain on a daily basis.”

The chronic illness helped the designer discover the true meaning of his life. It is “the joy and the necessity I feel to create, to connect fashion with photography. I don’t see life the same way anymore. Everything has been put back into perspective, especially with the idea of creating new collections. Through creation, I have rediscovered what it means to feel unburdened.”

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