A staple of minimalist, ultra-wearable design, the fashion label Celine has been an authoritative vision of women’s fashion for decades. As one of the biggest brands in the industry and with a throng of loyal fans, the upheaval of a newly minted creative director has been one of the most closely watched fashion dramas to play out in recent times. Once an industry icon, Celine’s future now seems uncertain.
A Quick Look Back
Celine, a 73-year-old French brand, was founded in 1945 by Céline Vipiana and her husband Richard. What initially began as a made-to-measure children’s shoe boutique became a four-store chain by 1948. A decade after its debut, Vipiana expanded her creations to ready-to-wear fashion for the everyday woman. She promoted sensible over frivolous clothing and launched a sportswear-themed fashion line.
In 1963, Vipiana introduced a women’s shoe line to her brand and launched Vent Fou, the brand’s introductory fragrance. In her quest to deliver high-quality basics, she added leather accessories to her collection in 1966. By the ‘70’s Celine was an international brand opening new boutiques worldwide, and with the expansion, a new logo emerged.
In 1996, Celine became an official part of the LVMH group–a luxury conglomerate–after its CEO Bernard Arnault inherited all 89 existing stores. The acquisition resulted in a ramping up of Celine’s ready-to-wear and accessory lines with Vipiana remaining its designer until her death at 84 years old, in 1997.
Michael Kors took over as lead designer after Vipiana died and was later named Creative Director in 1999. His characteristic combination of luxury, glamour and sportswear created themed fashion lines catering to jet-setters and club aficionados, which led the brand to moderate success until his tenure ended in 2004. Robert Menichetti, a former designer at Burberry, steered the company after Kor’s departure, lasting a mere year. His successor, Ivana Omazic, a Prada alumnus, didn’t last long either and left the brand in 2006, also with disappointing results. Then, on to the scene walked British designer Phoebe Philo who would be the saviour of the brand.
A New Era
Phoebe Philo’s impressive sophisticated and minimalist approach ushered in a new era of what was considered by fashion connoisseurs to be strong and powerful, contemporary minimalism. Her first collection featured clear-cut lines and cutting-edge tailoring in a neutral colour palette that women were clamouring to wear.
Rescuing the brand from obscurity and making it relatable in her 10 years at the helm, Philo introduced new ideas (fur-lined Birkenstock-like sandals), initiated movements (the Stan Smith white sneaker trend), originated empowering messages (her feminist-driven Spring 2017 collection boldly highlighted the female body), and celebrated significant figures (casting 79-year-old author and novelist Joan Didion as the face of the Spring 2015 campaign). She also debuted a myriad of now-iconic bags (the Trapeze, Classic, Luggage, Cabas styles).
Philo’s shocking departure from Celine at the end of 2017, during the height of its unprecedented success, was quite an upheaval for many of the brand’s loyal fans. The company took advantage of her departure to announce the future launching of a range of new products (menswear, couture and fragrance) with the introduction of a new Artistic Director, Hedi Slimane.
Hedi Slimane, who is renowned for having turned the traditional company Yves Saint Laurent into a multi-billion dollar business, took the helm of Celine in February 2018. Known for his youth-centric style, rail-thin white models and for redefining menswear, the decision to appoint him appeared to be met with reservation. It seemed like an odd fit for Celine, a company that not only designed for women but is about women.
Slimane started his rebranding of Celine with a controversial change to the Celine logo (omitting the accent from the name) and launched a new e-commerce site in October, unveiling a redesigned platform in highlighting Slimane’s new collection for women and men, along with a selection of current season merchandise.
In an interview with Le Figaro last year, he outlined his rebranding vision for Celine, stating “consistency, rigour, accuracy – this is what is meaningful to me. I want the integrity of this route. It will perpetuate at Celine.” In the same interview, he vowed to start a new chapter and to be himself against all odds. By the looks of his Celine debut fashion show in September 2018, his new chapter and rebranding seemed to be at odds with the company’s loyal fan base. Slimane debuted 96 unisex looks, spotlighting his staples like tiny mini-dresses, motorcycle jackets, skinny pants with lots and lots of black. The widely criticised debut presented a single red sequin dress with a few metallics dispersed throughout the collection.
The New IT Bag?
With the help of Lady Gaga, Slimane dropped his new bag called Le 16 in the autumn of 2018, suggesting that he will continue the bag reputation of Celine; a great strategy since accessories make up an estimated 65 percent of the brand’s revenues. Its gold hardware and monogrammed leather tassel stamped with the letters L.G., unlike his collection debut, has been well received with multiple Hollywood stars toting it as a coveted accessory. Hedi reportedly designed the bag on the day of his arrival at Celine, and it took six months of diligent developing and testing to find the ideal leather for it. Based on the buzz since the bag has dropped, it is predicted that Slimane has “laid the foundation for a future iconic classic.”
What Does the Future Hold for the Brand
With Slimane’s collection debut it’s clear that Celine will no longer be defined by women, as he’s determined to pursue his admiration for grunge, glam, and rail-thin models. Celine’s legacy of flowing, uncomplicated silhouettes, tailored separates, and quirky, mismatched shows have disappeared, resulting in a significant increase in sales of “vintage” Celine (Philo-era) merchandise. How the incongruence of the new direction for Celine will play out with its loyal fans remains to be seen.
Conversely, Celine’s parent company, LVMH, is counting on the house’s rebranding to bring in €3 billion ($3,431,100 USD) per year with its expansion into fragrances, men’s wear, and couture. Despite the rocky inception of SLimane’s collection, the formidable plan is still tenable, considering he became a major moneymaker at Saint Laurent as its creative director despite his prior controversial beginnings at the company.
While the brand of today is fabulous, relaxed minimalist, no-fuss attire for the modern-day working woman – Celine began life as a children’s shoe store. The label has proven that it has staying power. As difficult as it may sometimes be to embrace change, Celine has done so, evolving not just to survive, but to also remain relevant in the fickle world of fashion.