CELINE VS CÉLINE
“You mean the Céline funeral?” was one anonymous buyer’s answer to Hedi Slimane’s debut of Celine (accent removed) for the spring ’19 season. While the designer’s introduction of his very specific vision of a rock ’n’ roll, black-clad iteration of the French brand was no real surprise to most, there was nevertheless an outpouring of criticism from editors, stylists and others following the Sept. 28 Paris Fashion Week show.
A group of insiders even hosted their own memorial honoring the collections that Phoebe Philo created for Céline starting in 2008 to the spring ’18 season (the last collection before the British designer announced her retirement this year in December). Attico designer and stylist Giorgia Tordini, brand consultant Ramya Giangola, Farfetch VP of style and creative Yasmin Sewell and others met outside La Bar du Caveau at the Place Dauphine hours before the show wearing Philo’s designs to celebrate the “for women, by a woman” ethos, all while street-style photographer Tommy Ton documented the informal soirée.
Almost immediately following the show, the Instagram account @oldceline popped up, a page dedicated to Philo’s designs (and one to tag when wearing them). And resale site The Real Real’s homepage featured a curation of Céline’s Philo era the day after, with pieces that are now considered collector’s items. (The famous fur-lined sandals are selling out for approximately $550.)
“Everyone loved what Phoebe did. It was always editorially beautiful, but ultimately, it was a business built on handbags,” said Ken Downing, fashion director and SVP of Neiman Marcus, who also noted that selling the ready-to-wear was more complicated at retail than its editor status indicated.
Downing admitted that he was “hoping
for a little bit more vocabulary that would link to Céline,” and pointed to the styling of the show as a possible cause for such a strong reaction. “Looking back to the first season [Slimane was] at YSL, it was super-disruptive. He was looking to do that,” said Downing. But the retailer also said he’s been inundated with messages from customers on social media telling him that they are excited about Slimane’s direction. “A runway presentation is only one portion of what happens [with a new collection],” Downing said. “You put the pedal to the metal in the showroom, and that’s where things really happen.”
A visit to the brand’s temporary showroom after the show revealed that observation to be true. Alongside the runway pieces was a larger offering of commercial ready-to-wear that was lighter on the rock ’n’ roll vibe. Handbags included old hits like the Luggage and classic box styles, and there was a strong selection of well-made boots (biker, Western and classic ankles with miniature studding), plus pumps and a new sneaker style.
As for the fate of Philophiles? Downing pointed to brands like The Row and Rosetta Getty as supplements to the idiosyncratic je ne sais pas of Céline — accent on.