The controversy surrounding Hedi Slimane and the French design house, Celine, since Phoebe Philo’s departure, shows little chance of slowing following its Paris Fashion Week Spring Summer 19 show. Why can’t people let go of Phoebe?
So, what are the Philophiles and The Slimaniacs?
Since 2008, when Phoebe Philo took the helm of the French fashion house Céline, she has grown a devout group of followers – or Philophiles as they affectionately name themselves. These group of loyal supporters (interestingly, not necessarily purchasers) relate to her androgynous, non-sexualised way of dressing. Phoebe showed the world women can still be sexy in this unconventional way with her oversized, exaggerated and masculine designs. “Everything we’re doing is about going forward,” Phoebe Philo told Vogue in 2009.
Since Phoebe’s announced retirement in 2018, and Hedi Slimane was appointed as her successor by LVMH, the French designer and Photographer has acquired all kinds of negative response from the Phoebe followers. So much so, Slimane’s fans have been negatively dubbed ‘The Slimaniacs’ suggesting that anyone who appreciates his work is a ‘maniac’.
What’s happened so far?
The appointment of Hedi Slimane at the beginning of 2018 sent ripples of apprehension through the fashion world. Phoebe Philo was a stalwart of the French brand, an ambassador of minimalistic dressing. Under her instruction, Céline became the go-to for timeless pieces that wowed the feminist fashion hungry season after season. She was a breath of fresh air, an empowerment to women, showing that you don’t have to have endless amounts of flesh on show to be sexy, dressing powerfully can make you feel powerful and boy, did it show in her catwalk shows. The thought of her retiring and Hedi taking the helm seemed an unusual choice. A choice that people weren’t afraid to vocalise their concern about. Business of Fashion heralded it a ‘dark new dawn’ for example.
The start of his career at Céline was as controversial as it was abrupt – he begun by deleting the entire catalogue of photographs on the official Instagram page. An almost defiant move, signaling what may be to come is a complete 360-degree shift from what Phoebe had strived for.
Then, he removed the accent from Céline – so Céline now becomes simply Celine. The logo itself has had its letter spacing changed and well, that’s about it. A lot of people commenting that it wasn’t worth changing at all and that it was more a power statement against the Philophiles than a considered creative choice. The new logo has also caused a social media uproar, whereby people are posting photos of them graffiti-ing the accent in marker pen onto the new posters.
Paris Fashion Week in September saw Hedi showcase his first collection, the air of intrigue mixed with apprehension was rife. But alas, the show probably hadn’t even finished before a swathe of negative comments flooded in from angry Celine fans, calling the show “tone deaf”, “narcissist” and “a big f*ck you to women” as reported in The Independent. Everything from Hedi’s choice of model, to the collection itself was scrutinised mercilessly. The choice of model was interesting, whilst most designers consciously pick models to showcase their diversity as a brand; with models of colour and of varying sizes to represent every possible consumer, Hedi opted for painfully thin, white models dressed in skin tight, suggestive outfits. The colour choice was morbidly black and felt very much like his previous collections at Saint Laurent. In fact, it wasn’t long before journalists and fans alike started commenting on the striking similarities between the two collections. It felt as though we had stepped back to 10 years ago.
Why are we so attached to Phoebe?
So, why can’t we embrace change and everything that Hedi is bringing to the brand? Why are we so attached to Phoebe? I believe it’s got more to do with what the clothes stood for rather than the clothes themselves. Yes, they were incredibly beautiful, well-made and works of art some might say. But it was the unique message they symbolized that resonated with so many women internationally. The appointment of Hedi and everything that he has reintroduced couldn’t have come at a worse time culturally. The world is still reeling from the #metoo campaign that saw so many high-profile male celebrities been accused and, in some cases, convicted of sexual misconduct. In America, Brett Kavanaugh was still appointed as Associate Justice to the Supreme Court despite compelling accusations of sexual misconduct from Dr Christine Blasey Ford and hundreds of women rallied in Ireland to abolish archaic abortion laws. Women are rising from below the glass ceilings and making their voices heard. Phoebe’s collections for Celine empowered the modern woman, when wearing her clothes the woman felt sexy but at the same time, intelligent and powerful. Hedi’s collection is trying to tell women to sit down, to know their place in society, and that is why women across the world have reacted so negatively. Phoebe signified a powerful woman – that it’s ok to stand tall and let your voice be heard. Whilst some argue that fashion is just clothes, the Philophiles prove there is a voice inside the wearer.