How Hedi Slimane Doubled Celine Sales

LOS ANGELES — On Thursday night, as a cold(ish) spell passed through Southern California, the designer Hedi Slimane lit up the facade of the Wiltern, an art deco theatre in Hollywood, with the name Celine, manufacturing a fashion show-meets-rock concert straight out of 2005.

The crowd consisted not of fashion industry people, but friends-of-the-house types. Iggy Pop, Interpol and The Strokes all performed. The Kills’ Jamie Hince and Alison Mosshart DJed. The White Stripes frontman Jack White created the “original soundtrack” that ran on repeat during a runway show populated with idealised takes on the looks that epitomised the era, from kneecap-tight skinny jeans to slouchy boots and ruffled blouses — even a version of the dropped-hem mini so ubiquitous at the time. (Only Pete Doherty, one of the period’s most memorable, and maniacal, rock stars, was missing.)

Slimane called the outing the “Age of Indieness.” Back in the mid-aughts, the then-Dior Homme designer’s skinny silhouettes were made for men, even if they were also worn by adventurous women. Now, he’s mining the look — rebranded “indie sleaze” by the TikTok generation — to create women’s pieces he might have dreamed up 20 years ago.

But Slimane’s continuous playing of the same backbeat has proven to be a valuable asset. For this performance, he once again sold the audience — including several rows of celebrities, from Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon to “Top Gun: Maverick” star Miles Teller to Dustin Hoffman — on sequined gold dresses, little collarless jackets and military capes, now inflected with the 1970s bourgeois sensibilities in the DNA of Celine, where Slimane has more than doubled sales since his arrival.

Celine doesn’t have as rich a history, nor as many recognisable brand signifiers, as Saint Laurent, the Kering-owned house that Slimane rebuilt in the 2010s. And yet, this year, it is expected to generate at least €2.2 billion ($2.3 billion) in annual revenue, according to analysts, just meeting the target set by LVMH chief executive and chairman Bernard Arnault in 2018. That’s despite a rocky start — Slimane’s radical overhaul of the brand upset devotees of former designer Phoebe Philo — and the shock of the pandemic.

While LVMH does not break out revenue figures for its brands, Celine did share that revenue has multiplied 2.5 times since Slimane’s arrival, with growth across all categories and regions, even in struggling China. In mature markets like Europe and Japan, sales have doubled. In the United States, where the brand was historically unrepresented, they have tripled. And not only are there more customers, but they are younger than they used to be.

“He’s consistent, and the customer today values consistency more than ever,” said Robert Burke, a retail advisor. “They don’t want to look like a fashion victim. There’s some certainty, stability, with Celine.”

For Slimane, there’s no other way of working. “You can only be one thing and only want to be one thing or remembered for one thing … you can only be lucky enough to have one style, a style of your own that becomes a caricature of you, your own ‘sound,’” the designer told journalist Lizzy Goodman during a November 2022 conversation that appeared in a hard-cover pamphlet sent out by the brand. (He also collaborated with Goodman on a poster for the documentary based on her book, “Meet Me in the Bathroom: Rebirth and Rock and Roll in New York City 2001-2011.”) “I’m probably synonymous [with] punk rock and indieness in fashion, beside being known for my androgynous models. I have been precisely this in fashion for more than 20 years. This is the caricature I gladly own.”

At Celine, Slimane’s insistence on consistency is evident in the way he has developed each category. The brand’s handbag offering still includes successes from Philo’s tenure — her Belt bag remains the best seller at Neiman Marcus, for instance. But from removing the accent on the “e” on each bag’s name stamp, to introducing new styles that look at once familiar and fresh, every little bit now reflects his exacting vision.

Burke cited the Ava, a banana-boat shoulder bag that starts at just $990, as a standout, although the Triomphe line, a series of flap bags with a double-C clasp — featured heavily in the show — is now the brand’s top-selling leather-goods range. Part of the allure may be Celine’s relatively low reliance on logos, especially as some shoppers back away from obvious branding: the Triomphe symbol, which has been inserted into sunglasses and belts, too, has a vintage, fairly understated quality.

“Our customer is embracing the idea of a more subtle logo,” said Lana Todorovich, chief merchant at Neiman Marcus.

But it’s not only the bags that are selling. Women’s ready-to-wear has also grown significantly this year in particular, according to multiple retailers. At Neiman Marcus, for instance, sales of Celine ready-to-wear have tripled since 2019.

“When we came out of the pandemic, there was a desire to celebrate in an extroverted way,” Todorovich said. “Now, a normalised way of approaching fashion is coming back.”

Slimane’s talent is in making the best-in-class version of “normal,” everyday items — vintage Levi’s, a trench, a blazer — or the types of things that most luxury shoppers don’t have the patience, or acumen, to thrift. At Celine, he has restructured the atelier into two divisions — tailoring and flou — to allow for the development of couture-level garments, which account for roughly 20 percent of the overall runway collection.

The finale of the Celine Winter 2023 show, "The Age of Indieness," which took place on December 8, 2022, at the Wiltern Theatre in Los Angeles, California.

And like most other top-tier fashion brands, Celine has ventured further and further into the highest end of pricing, not only with accessories — such as the personalised Haute Maroquinerie Triomphe, with hardware made of 18k gold — but also through the couture-like pieces it designs for its growing list of private clients.

A show in Los Angeles, where Slimane lived for almost a decade until 2016, highlights the importance of the US market, which has played an outsized role in top-line growth for luxury brands in recent years. But it was also something of a celebration of Celine’s momentum.

“Where Celine is today and where it was a few years ago is night and day,” Burke said. “They’ve nurtured it, and now it’s able to stand on its own.”

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