February 5, 2023

LOS ANGELES — On Thursday night, as a cold(er) spell swept through Southern California, designer Hedi Slimane lit up the facade of the Wiltern, an Art Deco theater in Hollywood named Celine, creating a fashion show-meets-rock concert straight out of 2005 .

The audience was not made up of people from the fashion industry, but friends of the house. Iggy Pop, Interpol and The Strokes all performed. Jamie Hince and Alison Mosshart from The Kills were spinning. The White Stripes’ frontman, Jack White, created the “original soundtrack” that was repeated during a runway show filled with idealized versions of the looks that epitomized the era, from kneecap-tight skinny jeans to slouchy boots and ruffled blouses—even a version of the dropped-hem mini so ubiquitous at the time. (Only Pete Doherty, one of the period’s most memorable and maniacal rock stars, was missing.)

Slimane dubbed the outing the “Age of Indess.” In the mid-1950s, the skinny silhouettes of the then Dior Homme designer were made for men, even though they were also worn by adventurous women. Now he’s mining the look — renamed “indie sleaze” by the TikTok generation — to create women’s pieces he might have dreamed up 20 years ago.

But Slimane’s continuous playing of the same backbeat has proven to be a valuable asset. For this performance, he once again sold the audience — which included several rows of celebrities from Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon to “Top Gun: Maverick” star Miles Teller to Dustin Hoffman — on gold sequined dresses, petite collarless jackets and military capes, now buckled with the bourgeois sensibilities of the 1970s in Celine’s DNA, where Slimane has more than doubled sales since his arrival.

Celine doesn’t have as rich a history and not as many recognizable brand signifiers as Saint Laurent, the home of Kering that Slimane rebuilt in the 2010s. And yet, according to analysts, it is expected to generate at least €2.2 billion ($2.3 billion) in annual revenue this year, just below the target set by LVMH chief executive and chairman Bernard Arnault in 2018. That’s despite a rocky start — Slimane’s radical overhaul of the brand upset supporters of former designer Phoebe Philo — and the shock of the pandemic.

While LVMH doesn’t break down sales figures for its brands, Celine did share that sales have multiplied 2.5 times since Slimane’s arrival, with growth across all categories and regions, even in struggling China. Sales doubled in mature markets such as Europe and Japan. In the United States, where the brand was historically not represented, they have tripled. And not only are there more customers, but they are also younger than before.

“It’s consistent, and the customer values ​​consistency more than ever today,” says Robert Burke, a retail consultant. “They don’t want to look like a fashion victim. There is some security, stability, with Celine.”

For Slimane there is no other way of working. “You can be only one thing and want to be only one thing or be remembered for one thing… you can only be lucky enough to have one style, a style of your own that becomes a caricature of you, your own ‘sound’. ” the designer told journalist Lizzy Goodman during a November 2022 interview that appeared in a hardback pamphlet sent out by the brand. (He also collaborated with Goodman on a poster for the documentary based on her book “Meet Me in the Bathroom: Rebirth and Rock and Roll in New York City 2001-2011”.) “I’m Probably Synonymous [with] punk rock and an obsession with fashion, alongside fame for my androgynous models. I’ve been in fashion for just this for over 20 years. This is the caricature I like to own.”

With Celine, Slimane’s emphasis on consistency is reflected in the way he developed each category. The brand’s handbag range still features successes from Philo’s tenure – her belt bag, for example, remains the bestseller at Neiman Marcus. But from removing the accent from the ‘e’ on each bag’s name stamp to introducing new styles that look both familiar and fresh, every little bit now reflects his discerning vision.

Burke singled out the Ava, a banana boat shoulder bag that starts at just $990, as a standout, though the Triomphe line, a series of flap bags with a double-C closure — featured heavily on the show — is now the top of the line. the brand is. sell a range of leather goods. Part of the appeal may be Celine’s relatively low reliance on logos, especially as some customers shy away from overt branding: The Triomphe symbol, which has also been incorporated into sunglasses and belts, has a vintage, quite understated quality.

“Our client is embracing the idea of ​​a more subtle logo,” said Lana Todorovich, chief trader at Neiman Marcus.

But it’s not just the bags that sell. Ready-to-wear for women has also grown considerably this year, according to several retailers. For example, at Neiman Marcus, Celine ready-to-wear sales have tripled since 2019.

“Coming out of the pandemic, there was a desire to celebrate in an extroverted way,” Todorovich said. “Now a normalized way of approaching fashion is coming back.”

Slimane’s talent lies in creating the best-in-class version of ‘regular’, everyday items – vintage Levi’s, a trench coat, a blazer – or the sort of thing most luxury shoppers don’t have the patience or insight for to be thrifty. At Celine, he restructured the atelier into two divisions – tailoring and flou – to enable the development of couture-level garments, which account for about 20 percent of the total catwalk collection.

The finale of the Celine Winter 2023 show,

And like most other high-end fashion brands, Celine has continued to venture into the high end of the price segment, not only with accessories – such as the personalized Haute Maroquinerie Triomphe, with hardware made of 18k gold – but also with the couture-inspired pieces who designs it for its growing list of private clients.

A show in Los Angeles, where Slimane lived for nearly a decade until 2016, highlights the importance of the US market, which has played an excessive role in luxury brand sales growth in recent years. But it was also a kind of celebration of Celine’s momentum.

“Where Celine is today and where it was a few years ago is night and day,” said Burke. “They nurtured it and now it can stand on its own.”

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