Following a men’s season of change, the industry gears up for the returns of Hedi Slimane and Riccardo Tisci to a fashion climate in rapid evolution. As the countdown to the women’s shows in September begins, Anders Christian Madsen considers what’s to come.
The hiring of Virgil Abloh at Louis Vuitton in April signified a seismic shift in fashion. Yet the Prince of Streetwear’s entry into the gilded halls of the establishment only marked the first chapter in a year set to go down in fashion history as a milestone for change. On Monday night, Hedi Slimane celebrated his fiftieth birthday in Paris. The Los Angeles migrant has quietly – and with due mystery – been spending time in the French capital planning his secrecy-shrouded debut show for Céline this September.
Much has been said about the fashion climatic impact of his predecessor Phoebe Philo’s departure from that house, but Slimane’s arrival doesn’t just bode a turn in aesthetics. A wizard of retail at Dior Homme in the 2000s, his understanding of bourgeoning fashion mentalities in both the dressing and shopping departments made him the early architect behind some of the industry’s most powerful youth-driven phenomena. Take for instance the skinny jean he brought back to life, paving the way for millions of fast-fashion high street transactions over the past twenty years.
At Saint Laurent, Slimane heralded a new straightforward approach to the runway. So retail-friendly were his shows you could literally shop them look by look, yet that concept never felt too commercial. In the two years since he departed Saint Laurent, the industry has been impacted by two major changes. The all-empowering acceptance of the new establishment – Demna Gvasalia at Balenciaga, Virgil Abloh at Louis Vuitton – means that fashion now looks to streetwear-savvy kids for instruction rather than the other way around. And our recognition of the power of this millennial generation has opened the doors to a digital promotional universe that seems to know no bounds.
Most prominently, Alessandro Michele, who joined Gucci just a year before Slimane left Saint Laurent (both houses are owned by Kering) has been virtually unchallenged in his dominance of the social media sphere, producing imagery, artwork and words tailor-made to specific platforms at an unrelenting pace. Michele’s catwalk-to-sidewalk proficiency is not dissimilar to Slimane’s, and in September the two will be showing just days apart as Michele moves his Gucci show to Paris.
Knowing Slimane’s public relations ability and knack for assimilating the zeitgeist, his Céline will no doubt prove a contender in the areas of digital promotion, new-fangled sales tactics and catering to the millennial mindset. Interestingly, the announcement of his appointment at Céline included the mention of an haute couture line, the authentic craft of fashion which has gained newfound interest with the young generation in recent seasons thanks to the mind-blowing, otherworldly creations of John Galliano at Maison Margiela.
If Slimane’s work can zone in on that millennial appetite for making the unreal real – much like Michele did with his tiny dragons and severed heads for Gucci in February – he’ll be an even greater force to be reckoned with. It was the same millennial believers, who put Virgil Abloh at Louis Vuitton, and who have intercepted the fashion establishment with their roaring call for an arena devoted to principles of self-expression, individuality, and diversity. For any designer young or old wanting to do business in the current fashion climate, these are the commandments.
Through his final collections at Bottega Veneta, Tomas Maier did his part to inject the heritage leather house with the joie-de-vivre of the youth, jazzing up his collections with colorful surface decoration and quirky casts. For his successor Daniel Lee, who takes to the runway in February, the challenge is somewhat different. As a Céline alum, his appointment already fills the dreams of so many Phoebe Philo fans made unwilling wardrobe nomads by her departure.
Yet in a rapidly changing fashion environment that now hails both the normcore logo-centric luxury of Abloh for Louis Vuitton and the exuberantly experimental couture of Galliano at Maison Margiela, the avant-garde minimalism perfected by Philo may be at risk of natural extinction. It’s a point proven by Clare Waight Keller, whose second and more boisterous collection for Givenchy this year received way more applause than her solemn first proposal last year. Much as the broad spectrum of fashion fans love an intellectualized wardrobe, the changes we’re experiencing are driven by constant elements of surprise, innovation and defiance against the values of the old system.
In a way, it’s what Waight Keller did when she dressed the Duchess of Sussex for her wedding, much to the surprise and delight of the industry. The promotional impact of that move made for some serious tension in the air at the Givenchy couture show this summer. And it’s also what Riccardo Tisci is up to with his early announcements for the Burberry operation he’s about to kick off in September.
If Gucci is representing the Italian corner and Céline the French in this upcoming European canvassing of sales and attention, Burberry is flying the British flag of that campaign. This month, Tisci revealed a future structure for his adopted brand which will see a collaboration with Vivienne Westwood as well as several exclusive drops of Burberry’s main collection over the course of the season. But it’s the symbiosis of all the efforts of these ingenious players of fashion – Louis Vuitton and Gucci, Burberry and Céline, Bottega Veneta and Maison Margiela – which will definitively revolutionize the way we see, like and buy fashion in a future that’s a lot nearer than it used to be.
This article first appeared on Vogue.co.uk