The Awful Feeling Of Feeling Nothing

Hedi Slimane’s first men’s wear collection for Celine is in store. Who’s excited?

By Ray Zhang

I did not want to dismiss the hottest debut this year. Not just like that, not prematurely, not without first seeing the clothes, close-up. You may want to know I am not an Hedi Slimane fan ( I don’t think any of us in SOTD are), never have been. What I feel about his Celine for men is not going to be, for his die-hard followers, fair, but this was what I saw. It was not a cursory glance, but a close examination, as close as it gets.

While I had expected Mr Slimane’s aesthetic repetition, I came away certain again that he was telling me what I’ve seen before is what I shall and should see again. Newness is not new, as he communicates through familiar “Teddy” jackets. Don’t expect change. By now you should know he isn’t giving any. If you thought this was a reprise of his Saint Laurent, which then divided fashion opinion, you did not think wrongly or unreasonably. In the Hedi Slimane l’opera mode, one note is the best note.

Even the interior of the store is a throw-back to the years before his current tenure. Now, somehow the rigidity seemed intimidating. The stone walls, the harsh lighting; the minimal metal-frames-as-racks, suspended from the bare ceiling; the floating shelves, protruding from walls; the sterile glass cabinets; the industrial boast; the deliberate coldness that hits you like a slap—they stubbornly told me, to hell with my expecting things to be different.

In the end, it was the first Celine men’s collection that I have come to view. A Web browser might be useful in seeing the clothes as they were shown—in full swagger, but it is in a retail setting, where the clothes do not gain from the deceptive art of styling and the bodies that match those of Mr Slimane’s rock world, that I get to see the collection as individual pieces. Do they hold up individually? Lest I am mistaken, these are not badly made clothes; they just don’t fall into a category I can confidently say ‘designed’. Reprise, yes. So, as shirts go, as jeans go, as blazers go, they hold up to Uniqlo.

This, of course, risks being called comparing apples to pears. But what crossed my mind when I saw a viscose Western shirt in shadow check (that I later learn is part of a “classic shirt” range) with nothing a design lecturer might be able to point out to her students as creative, was “Gap”! After what Raf Simons did to the Western shirt at Calvin Klein, you’d think the bar for such a chemise (if there’s still demand for it) was raised. Mr Slimane obviously does not care about raised bars, which, to me, still suggests an indolence of approach, more so if you concur that there’s considerably more effort at Levi’s Made & Crafted.

Even the T-shirts, today an important entry-level category, can’t evoke a hint of admiration; their graphics made Off-White’s arrows look exceedingly artistic. The one with the oversized Celine logo, printed wholesale—it could have been Converse! Surprising were the shape of tees, which appeared to be for those who have spent considerable time in the gym and need tops that can allow the fabric’s tensile strength to be tested. The sleeves were so abbreviated, they seemed capped—the better to emphasise biceps! Sure, Mr Slimane most likely did not intend for them to be worn as a muscle tee, but they look decidedly from a time when clothes needed to give extreme musculature definition.

It is understandable that during the time he was at Saint Laurent, doing clothes that sat just above the humdrum, customers were into ‘looks’ rather than designs. As separates, those pieces were simple and easy to wear, evoking a rock-cool sensibility that is understandably appealing. But don’t people tire of what in Thailand is called same-same? There is, of course, nothing wrong with doing simple. The offerings of Lemaire, Jil Sander, and OAMC are oftentimes the antithesis of complex, but they don’t cross into the spirit-dampening space of nothingness. Pick anything in the Celine store, hold it up, and you are likely to return it to the rack than bring it to the fitting room.

But it was the fitting room that the sales staff was trying to persuade me to go to. When I stood before a plain white skinny shirt in an admittedly seductive cotton poplin, he asked me what my size was. When I took a tuxedo jacket in wool crepe to have a closer look and a surer touch, he pointed to the nearest mirror and told me I could slip it on. When I stroked a pair of dark denim jeans that looked totally linear from waist to hem, he said that “the store has only skinny”. Was that criticism of the old Ganryu jeans I was wearing? When I moved away from the clothes, he looked at me with what I thought were pupils of pity.

By then, I concluded that the sleek and stubbornly forbidding interior camouflaged the clothes’ total lack of warmth and allure. As quickly as I went in, I left. Not even a shirt cuff tugged at my interest. I didn’t feel a thing.

Photo: Galerie Gombak

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