Heidi Slimane’s Celine Menswear A/W ’23 Collection invited contrasting opinions across fashion and news platforms. Two days later, Pharrell Williams was all ANYONE was talking about.

The media focus on Slimane appeared orchestrated by LVMH to pre-empt its own Williams bombshell – positioning Slimane as the organization’s elder statesman (‘the last great rock star designer’), while also placing him in staged relief.

The Slimane and (to a greater extent) Williams’ focus is part of a strategic reshuffle at LVMH. It seeks to outmaneuver rivals Kering through more impactful branding. It also hopes to relight the designer-as-celebrity ideal that Kering‘s Gucci has self-consciously shied away from since Tom Ford’s departure.  

Celebrity Kudos and Ideas

Williams, at 49, can hardly claim to be the voice of a new generation (Slimane was 31 when he became creative director at Dior Homme, Tom Ford 33 at Gucci). 

But his hiring creates a disruptive buzz due to his star status outside of fashion and the assumption that he will build on the athleisure foundations laid by Virgil Abloh.  

If impactful delivery is the game, then Williams (who has existing streetwear kudos with his Billionaire Boys Club brand plus two decades at the vanguard of popular music) is – on paper – a good choice. 

And infrequent flirtations with controversy over songs like Blurred Lines fall short of the transgressive attention garnered by fellow music (and p/t fashion) star Kanye West. 

New Star, Uncharted Waters

Questions remain about the extent to which Williams can add value to a sector where hip-hop-styled clothes have arguably reached saturation point, and where Abloh has left such an unprecedented mark. However, the news of his joining the LVMH stable was received positively. 

The response to Slimane’s Celine collection was more tempered. It’s arguable that – in the current climate – he’s up against greater odds than when he made his Dior Homme breakthrough in the early 2000s

Then the post-90s mainstream press was tired and agitated by perceived heroin-chic hedonism, but the pre-internet counter-culture crowd (and the baby boomers running the boardrooms) loved his edge.

In 2023, it’s hard to see such an undiluted version of the bohemian rock aesthetic fitting in. Denim sales are generally down, while leather and fur are complicated materials in an increasingly pro-sustainability/synthetic world. 

21st Century Problems

Moving into the second quarter of the twenty-first century, it will be fascinating to see how Slimane and Williams grapple with zeitgeist themes such as Gen A’s integration of the metaverse and political (sometimes radical) agendas, plus its willingness to move away from corporatized top-down trends. 

Williams has successfully managed the cultural conversation outside of fashion and can learn from the fallout of the Kanye debacle and the experience of former heroes like Slimane. 

He’s taking on the biggest menswear job in the world. Ultimately (another Yeezy shortcoming) it will be the clothes doing the talking.     

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