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When Tom Ford left Gucci in 2003 it was a big shock in the fashion industry, marking the first break up between a luxury brand and a high profile designer in this era dominated by conglomerates. Fifteen years later, the designer musical chair game became almost the norm and along with the constant change of creative directors comes the total brand revamp.
The latest case to discuss is of course Hedi Slimane’s Celine (the brand formerly known as Céline) debut. He who created a frenzy around Dior Homme in the early 00’s and who subverted everything that Yves Saint Laurent stood for – including any tiny similarity with his predecessors at the maison. He struck back last week alienating a whole customer base, puzzling journalists, but pleasing a lot of buyers and fans of his “glam rock-grunge” aesthetic – which by the way hasn’t changed a bit since he left Saint Laurent in early 2016.
So, the real question here is what’s the role of brand identity for a luxury company nowadays? It is expected that the new creative director comes with a new set of ideas as Phoebe Philo herself did when she was hired for the Celine post 10 years ago (worth noticing that the brand was pretty irrelevant back then). Ditto Alessandro Michele when he replaced Frida Giannini at Gucci (again, the void left by Tom Ford was hard to fill but Alessandro somehow brought back that feeling of indulgence), Nicholas Ghesquière at Louis Vuitton after Marc Jacobs, Clare Waight Keller at Givenchy after Riccardo Tisci and the list goes on…
They can have complete different ideas but at least try to keep a connection with the brand heritage, as Tisci just did with Burberry, and still speak with the consumer base whilst starting a dialogue with a new one. In the case of Slimane, there is no connection. It’s his aesthetic, his vision, his brand which sadly indicates that even a successful identity can be sacrificed in the name of market/media buzz. Is it right? In an era when consumers are proclaimed to be kings and holding the power over brands it doesn’t seem fair to blatantly tell them to move on. On the other hand, consumers are king but cash is also king and as long as Hedi brings the $$$$ to LVMH, as he did for Kering, they can’t be bothered.
Which begs the question: if he is a walking branding masterclass and a big cash machine why they just don’t give him his own label?
Images: on the left, spring/summer 2019 Celine show and on the right, past Saint Laurent shows