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I missed last fashion week for my sister’s wedding and accidentally booked a vacation for this next one in February. It wasn’t purposeful, but it is representative of my waning interest in capital “F” fashion, a flame that finally died on Sunday when Hedi Slimane was named the everything of Céline.
A marketing genius, Slimane squeezed men into the skinniest of Dior Homme suits in the early aughts and, more recently, convinced women to drop $3,000 on babydoll dresses at the house he renamed Saint Laurent. His career is full of bold black-and-white statements and controversy, but is he a nuanced designer for adult women? An admirer of the developed female form? He is not those things. That role largely falls to female designers, who consider what women might want to wear in real life, while their male counterparts deal in fantasy (Gucci’s eccentric bohemian fantasy, Tom Ford’s sexy Amazon fantasy, Pierpaolo Piccioli’s Hollywood starlet fantasy at Valentino).
For the last decade, Phoebe Philo was worshipped for her work at Céline, for producing elegant, wearable, and surprising collections, for featuring women like Joan Didion in her campaigns, for beautifully referencing her mother as inspiration. “She seemed to have a freedom that I think we long for now,” she told The Gentlewoman of her mom in 2010. “A lack of the pressure that there is today... She wore very practical clothes and had the same pieces for 10 years.” That’s what women want today, and that’s what Philo gave them. (Men loved it too: Avid Philo-phile Kanye West wore Céline on stage at Coachella in 2011.)
She produced the wardrobe of my adult dreams, the clothes that projected the kind of life I wanted to live. I planned to wear them at 40 or 50 or whenever I could finally afford a pair of those goddamn perfect pants, but in the meantime her impact was so widespread that Céline-inspired cuts were everywhere in my late 20s and early 30s. If you let me into your closet, I could trace at least one thing back to Philo: a pair of wide-leg pants cut just so at the ankle, a bag lacking bells or buckles, a pair of shoes with fur on them that would’ve seemed absurd pre-Philo. You might not know her name or the brand, and you might balk at the asinine thought of spending $1,300 on three leather pouches buttoned together and called “The Trio,” but if you’ve shopped in the past decade, her aesthetic made its way into your life.
The timing feels like a joke. The way we talk about the things we are talking about right now could use some of Philo’s nuance, her innate understanding of women. And yet there is no subtlety in replacing her with a man who is going to launch fragrance and menswear and insist on calling himself “artistic, creative, and image director.” WWD’s article announcing Slimane’s new role quotes man after man talking about how exciting it is that a man will lead Céline and make clothes for men because imagine for a minute that a brand founded by a woman and run by a woman and designed for women for the past decade dare not invite men into the fold, in this of all years.
It is unfair to assume that Slimane will shrink Philo’s elegant, swinging wool trousers into black skinny jeans or rip holes in her rich cashmere sweaters. But he will do something radically different and experimental within the safe space of a luxury conglomerate at the LVMH-owned Céline, and wouldn’t it be grand to see a woman get that opportunity?