FROM VIPIANA TO SLIMANE: A DEEP DIVE INTO THE PEOPLE BEHIND CÉLINE’S SUCCESS

by Charlotte Banfield , September 10, 2021
Celine Summer 2019 Campaign by Hedi Slimane
Celine Summer 2019 Campaign by Hedi Slimane

Founded in Paris in 1945, Celine is a luxury fashion house known for their sophisticated minimalism and blend between the casual and the extravagant. Over the past 76 years, Celine has grown from a children’s shoe brand into a global player on the fashion stage, with stores located around the world from New York to Hong Kong. By 2018, Celine’s revenue stood close to €1 billion, as confirmed by Bernard Arnault, the chairman and chief executive of LVMH. Without a doubt, Celine’s creative directors over the years should be credited, at least in part, for these sky-rocketing figures and the brand’s rising success.

 

 

CÉLINE by Céline Vipiana
CÉLINE by Céline Vipiana

CÉLINE VIPIANA

Not much is known about Céline’s founder: Céline Vipiana. Vipiana and her husband Richard originally created Céline as a made-to-measure children’s shoe boutique at 52 Rue Malte in Paris. Over the next decade, the brand rose in popularity and Vipiana decided to expand into women’s footwear, accessories and ready-to-wear sportswear, aiming to focus on functionality rather than the frivolity represented by other brands at the time. This venture paid off, with Céline becoming more and more commercially successful over the next following decades. We also have Céline Vipiana to thank for the now-iconic Blazon Chaine logo that decorates products to this day. Inspired by the Arc de Triomphe in her native Paris, the logo features two opposite-facing C’s with a patterned centre representing the monument. By the 1990s, Céline had begun integrating into international markets in both the USA and in Hong Kong, and had successfully attracted the attention of Bernard Arnault and LVMH. Although LVMH had been investors in Céline since the late 1980s, their acquisition of Céline only came after Vipiana’s death in 1997.

 

ARCHIVE: CELINE CELINE

ARCHIVE: CELINE
CELINE

 

Michael Kors closing the CELINE show in 2004.

MICHAEL KORS

Prior to being appointed by LVMH as Céline’s first women’s ready-to-wear designer, Michael Kors began his career in fashion as a salesperson at Lothar’s, a boutique across the road from Bergdorf Goodman’s, and graduated to become the designer and visual head for the brand. Kors was soon discovered by Dawn Meller, a fashion director at the famous department store, who asked him to show his collection to a group of buyers from Bergdorf Goodman’s. In 1981, Kors launched his women’s label at Bergdorf’s and his collection was even put in the store windows, an honour he didn’t fully realise the extent of until later in his career. However, his label had to file for bankruptcy after three years, forcing his line to be put on hold. But this cloud also brought a silver lining: Kors was given the opportunity to become the next creative director of Céline and gain international exposure.

 

Michael Kors for CELINE (1999)

 

Along with the introduction of ready-to-wear, Kors helped pioneer a new style aesthetic for the design house. Gone were the functional pieces of Vipiana’s day, in their wake Kors chose to combine the casual separates New York was known for with extravagant pieces synonymous with French fashion. This blend of styles created a signature aesthetic resembling a socialite on holiday, one that followed Kors to his career today. Indeed, this jetsetter style can already be seen in Kors’ debut collection at Céline, with cashmere sets, pops of colour, and gold lamé trousers reminiscent of Studio 54 mixed with heavy, masculine leather jackets. This new era of Céline proved to be exceedingly popular with customers, Céline undergoing a huge period of growth under Kors’ leadership.

 

Michael Kors for CELINE (2004)

 

Kors left Céline in 2004, after accusing LVMH of neglecting their smaller brands in favour of larger names like Christian Dior and Louis Vuitton. Since then, he has focused on his namesake label Michael Kors, and his business has boomed tremendously. In 2009, he had the honour of dressing Michelle Obama for her inaugural White House portrait, the sleek, sleeveless black jersey dress contrasting with the previous colourful power suits favoured by previous First Ladies (Interestingly, Kamala Harris, the first female Vice President in America’s history, wore a pastel blue Michael Kors Collection power suit for her Vogue cover in 2021). His achievements didn’t stop there: in 2010, Kors became the youngest ever recipient of the CFDA (Council of Fashion Designers of America) Geoffrey Beene Lifetime Achievement Award; in 2011, Kors took his company public with one of the most successful IPOs in fashion history, making him a billionaire by 2014. It’s safe to say that his stint at Céline revived his career, propelling him to new heights most other designers can only dream of.

 

Celine by Michael Kors Celine by Michael Kors

 

portrait non daté du créateur italien Roberto Menichetti, 37 ans, qui... News Photo - Getty Images

ROBERTO MENICHETTI

Following Kors’ departure, Roberto Menichetti was tasked with trying to fill Kors’ shoes at the helm of Céline in 2005. Menichetti’s career in fashion began when he joined Jil Sander in 1992, leading the research and design team for the women’s collection for six years and developing Sanders’ signature minimalistic style. He also headed the co-branding of Jil Sander for Puma, the first collaboration between a fashion house and a sports company, in 1997. Menichetti left Jil Sander in 1998 to become creative director at Burberry, where he defined the Burberry style as we know it today: a combination of British aristocracy and pragmatic functionality. Under his rule, Burberry’s iconic pieces — namely the trench, the check and the skirt — flourished, and Burberry once again became a success in the fashion world, their profits rising from 11 million to over 110 million in three years alone.

Roberto Menichetti for CELINE (2005)
Roberto Menichetti for CELINE (2005)

One would have thought that Menichetti’s long history at revitalising brands and redefining signature aesthetics would mean Céline would thrive under his creative control, but unfortunately his debut (and final) collection at Céline was met with negative reviews, and he left the brand after one year. Menichetti has proven time and time again that he was (and is) a brilliant creative director, and it’s possible that if he chose to stay at Céline he would have turned things around and revamped the brand into a success. However, his abrupt departure means that we must forever speculate about what may have been.

 

Celine Spring 2009 Ready-to-Wear Fashion Show | Fashion, Ready to wear, Fashion show

IVANA OMAZIC

Ivana Omazic may have an elusive online presence, but the brands she has worked with certainly don’t: Miu Miu, Prada Sport, Jil Sander, Céline and Maison Martin Margiela. Omazic joined Céline as their first female creative director since Vipiana in 2006 and devoted her time and creative energy wholeheartedly to Céline, unlike Kors and Menichetti before her.

However, her collections sparked mixed reviews and she ended up leaving the brand in 2008. Omazic later continued to work at Stone Island as creative consultant, Maison Martin Margiela and MCM as creative director, and is currently head of her own fashion label, Omazic.

CELINE by Ivana Omazic

 

PHOEBE PHILO

Phoebe Philo is popularly dubbed as “the saviour of Céline”, and for good reason too. After the unfortunately unsuccessful reigns of Menichetti and Omazic, the house of Céline was suffering from low sales and was in danger of fading into the background. Then Philo came along and rescued the brand, transforming the vision and aesthetic of Céline into one that focused on feminine minimalism: with structured silhouettes, few embellishments and a chic, modern aesthetic.

 

Pheobe Philo for CELINE (2018)
Pheobe Philo for CELINE (2018)

 

Philo began her career in fashion as a design assistant to Stella McCartney at Chloe, and succeeded her mentor as creative director when she left the brand. Philo’s Chloe featured a sort of nonchalant, bohemian beauty and femininity, and released an iconic It bag of the 2000s: the Chloe Paddington bag. Philo’s stint at Chloe caused the brand’s sales to increase by 60% worldwide, an astronomical figure considering Philo was only at the helm for five years, before leaving to focus on her family.

 

Pheobe Philo debuts her first Céline collection in 2009
Pheobe Philo debuts her first Céline collection in 2009

 

In 2008, LVMH announced that Phoebe Philo would take over from Ivana Omazic as Céline’s creative director. Her debut collection in 2009 left critics raving, and under her leadership sales revenue rose from 200 million to over 700 million over the next decade. It is arguably Philo’s Céline that popularised the brand into the household name it is today, redefining womenswear with a powerful signature style and amassing thousands of loyal fans. Philo won her second British Designer of the Year award in 2010, and in 2011 received the International Designer of the Year award from the CFA. Philo also made headlines in 2012 when she cancelled Céline’s highly-anticipated Fall/Winter show due to her pregnancy with her third child. While some of the fashion world were in uproar about this decision, this only strengthened Philo’s bond with her customers, who shared a similar dedication to their families.

Despite her leaving the brand three years ago, Philo’s Céline has not been forgotten. In fact, demand for pieces from this era has soared to new heights, with prices rising in response. An Instagram account named @oldcelinemarket , dedicated to Philo’s Céline, has amassed over 131 thousand followers. If you too are a fellow diehard fan of Philo (otherwise known as the Philophiles), you will be pleased to know that Philo has recently announced that she will be launching her own label with a minor investment from LVMH.

Céline by Pheobe Philo Céline by Pheobe Philo Céline by Pheobe Philo
Céline by Pheobe Philo Céline by Pheobe Philo Céline by Pheobe Philo

 

Hedi Slimane launches New Celine Scent
Hedi Slimane launches New Celine Scent

HEDI SLIMANE

When Philo abruptly left Céline in 2018, fans and critics alike hoped that the next creative director would keep her vision of modern, feminine sophistication alive. So when LVMH announced that Hedi Slimane, the ever-controversial creative director at Yves Saint Laurent, would be taking on her mantle, the public began to become unnerved, and rightly so.

Slimane began his career in fashion as the menswear ready to wear director at Yves Saint Laurent in 1996, and was soon promoted to overall artistic director. He then left YSL for Dior Homme in 2000, where he was named the creative director. There, he pioneered a skinny silhouette for menswear and increased sales volume and profit by 41% in 2002, and became the first menswear designer to win the CFDA award for International Designer of the Year, an accolade that was also awarded to his predecessor Philo. He stayed at Dior Homme for seven years, leaving in 2007 to return to his other passion: fashion and portrait photography. In 2012, he rejoined Yves Saint Laurent as the new creative director, where he remained until 2016.

 

Hedi Slimane for Celine (2019)
Hedi Slimane for Celine (2019)

 

Named by Forbes as “the fashion world’s bad boy”, Slimane is no stranger from making headlines. Slimane’s first decision at Céline was to remove the accent aigu (é) from the name, renaming the brand as Celine. This was the second time that Slimane had renamed a popular brand, as he is responsible for removing the “Y” from YSL, leaving the brand as simply Saint Laurent. At Celine, he also announced that he would be introducing a menswear line to the traditionally feminine brand. Following this, his debut collection in 2018 secured many Philophiles’ fears: that he would bulldoze over Philo’s legacy and establish his trademark edgier style as the new focus of the Celine brand, just as he had done with Saint Laurent. The fashion world was split into two at this point: with half denouncing the designer for ruining Philo’s vision. But other critics —including Slimane himself— combated the negative reactions, Slimane stating in an interview with Business of Fashion that “you don’t enter a fashion house to imitate the work of your predecessor, much less to take over the essence of their work, their codes and elements of their language”. Indeed, there are also positive reviews amid the negative ones, where Slimane is praised for expressing himself authentically as a designer and daring to try something new.

 

Hedi Slimane for Celine Menswear (2019)
Hedi Slimane for Celine Menswear (2019)

 

While critics initially did not receive Slimane’s reinterpretation of Philo’s Celine well, controversy has since quieted down, albeit not disappearing completely. Now in 2021, Slimane has been the creative director for three years, and reviews have warmed considerably. His most recent collection introduced some Philo-esque pieces, featuring neutrals and chic minimalism. Could it be that Slimane is reverting to his predecessor’s design aesthetic, or rather is his alternative, more masculine style simply softening with time? Nevertheless, we are excited to see what he does next at Céline’s helm.

 

Hedi Slimane for Celine (2021)
Hedi Slimane for Celine (2021)
ARCHIVE: CELINE CELINE by Hedi Slimane CELINE by Hedi Slimane

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