CELINE 1.0: A new concept signed by Hedi Slimane

Since it was announced that Hedi Slimane would be succeeding Phoebe Philo as the creative direction of Céline, it was clear that some major changes were in program at the fashion house.

Certainly, the change of designer came with a compete new brand direction; now that Slimane has taken over as the brand’s artistic, creative, and image director, Céline deleted its entire Instagram account last September to reveal its new logo; most notably, the new Céline under Slimane comes with one key difference—the accent on the é has been erased, making the brand simply Celine. For this reason, all eyes were on Hedi Slimane last season in September as he sent his first collection for Celine down the runway at Paris Fashion Week.

Thanks to social media and live streaming technology, initial reactions to Slimane’s first show came hard and fast, in real time, as soon as the first few looks appeared on the runway. The designer proposed skinny suits, sparkly, super-short party dresses, sharp leather motorcycle jackets and that sort of minimal accessories that are as cool as they are classic. People expressed immediately feelings about the show on Twitter and Instagram, many of them could be described as disappointment, disdain, anger, disbelief and mourning for former designer Phoebe Philo’s era of the brand.

Business of Fashion’s Lauren Sherman reported that on the day of Slimane’s Celine show, a group of women — high-profile fashion editors and department store buyers among them — gathered in Paris to celebrate Philo’s Celine; on Instagram, it was even created an account for the nostalgics called @oldceline.

For some, it was a sacrilege to replace Philo’s entire aesthetic with a much younger, much showier, much less-subtle collection without keeping a single element of her work.

Furthermore, for many Celine fans, Hedi Slimane’s erasure of Phoebe Philo’s work couldn’t have arrived at a worse moment. Coming up in the middle of the Harvey Weinstein allegations that kicked the #MeToo movement into high gear — and the two-year anniversary of President Trump’s election — this is a time when women are fighting hard against the forces that would silence them by speaking out against sexual predators and running for office. 

For many people the hatred for Slimane seems particularly appropriate to our times, when Donald Trump’s politics of division, cable news and social media have made everything intensely personal and turned public discourse into a daily shouting match.

Fashion often isn’t intended to be overtly political, but it’s impossible not to see what we wear through the lens of what’s happening around us; clothes reflect the times, they are how we armor ourselves to move through the world.

On the other hand, Slimane has hit back at critics of his debut show for Celine, saying those who accused him of misogyny for showing women dressed in short skirts were conservative and puritanical, suggesting there was a homophobic undertone to the outpouring of vitriol on social networks and defended his collection arguing that the young women in his show were just liberated and carefree.

LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, the luxury conglomerate that owns Celine alongside brands such as Louis Vuitton, Dior and Fendi, is confident Slimane will deliver huge sales gains. Also, LVMH chairman and chief executive officer Bernard Arnault has said he expects the “global superstar” designer to herald a doubling or tripling of Celine’s turnover within five years.

Against every expectation, taking inspiration from the old Celine — particularly the ’70s era in which it began to expand worldwide — Slimane channeled the French bourgeoisie for his F/W 2019-20, offering up his own take on daily wardrobes, while keeping them fresh for modern consumers. Public opinion considered the pieces timeless and well-made for women who start their day at 7 a.m. and know perfectly who they are and what they want. Slimane’s bourgeois woman was appreciated by the press and Fashion experts which makes us think that the powers of being at LVMH will very shortly enjoy the fruits of his labor.

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Navigating the minefield of cultural appropriation in the fashion system

Cultural appropriation for design inspiration has always been a normal process in the Fashion industry but has recently become a hotly disputed practice that often backfires. 

Times have changed and, for instance, Yves Saint Laurent’s peasant collections would now be criticized on social media for stealing from another culture. 

The phenomenon of cultural appropriation is defined as a “sociological concept which views the adoption or use of elements of one culture by members of a different culture as a largely negative phenomenon.” 

Despite the hype around the theme and all the complaints from people illegitimately “culturally robbed,” brands and Fashion designers still claim that being able to express themselves is more important than the consideration of the culture they are “stealing” from. 

On the other hand, fashion acts as a vehicle of self-expression and fosters the exploration of creativity across industries, as the well-known designer Marc Jacobs said, “To me clothing is a form of self-expression; there are hints about who you are in what you wear” .

In a time when information is just a few clicks away, there is no longer any excuse not to fully understand the symbolic codes of the items that inspire fashion companies. 

All the people working in the fashion system need to fully understand the real values and traditions behind the symbols that they are using in their collections; It is not enough to believe you are “honoring” another culture through your use of their symbolism and style. 

No people have been exploited more extensively for inspiration than the Kenyan tribe of the Maasai. More than a thousand companies sell a wide range of products from clothes to cars that use the name Maasai or utilize cultural symbols of the tribe. No one ever thought of asking permission. Some brands have even asserted legal ownership over the Maasai name and symbols by registering them as a trademark. 

Several brands and their designers have been overwhelmed by scandals regarding cultural appropriation in the design and concept of their items and fashion shows. 

Marc Jacobs presented for his SS17 runway show a cyber goth-inspired look in which all the models wore candy-coloured dreadlocks that received thousands of bad reviews, especially on social media. The designer initially rejected all the critics and has now recently come around to admitting that the dreadlocks were nonsense and insensitive. 

Another high-profile case regards the recent Dior campaign presented May 2018 featuring the Hollywood actress Jennifer Lawrence; The French fashion house was accused of cultural appropriation because the collection was entirely inspired by Mexican culture, in particular by escaramuza charra that is a typical Mexican sport that features a group of women on horseback, yet did not include any actual Mexicans. 

One of the brands that has faced the most backlash and accusations of cultural appropriation is Victoria’s Secret, the well-known lingerie label, starting from 2010 until right up to the recent runway show. 

People were offended multiple times over the years because of the indigenous-inspired looks worn by the models seemed to exploit and fetishize the culture. 

More recently, luxury brands such as Gucci, Balenciaga, Dior and Versace were accused of presenting in their SS18 runway shows the hijab just as a pure fashion accessory rather than a real religious choice. 

Due to the accelerated oscillation of fashion trends, production demands and the crucial role of brand loyalty, companies and designers are now under a growing social spotlight and for this reason they must be really careful about not confusing cultural inspiration with cultural appropriation.

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Annalisa Manobianca