Philophiles versus Slimaniacs in fashion's new civil war

If Hedi Slimane had crushed a kitten under the heel of one of his studded boots he might have provoked less indignation than his debut show for Celine. The howl that went up after the hottest show of Paris fashion week on Friday night has since turned into a civil war on social media between his defenders -- the Slimaniacs -- and the supporters of his predecessor Phoebe Philo, the Philophiles.

The latter accuse the superstar designer of grinding the artful British creator's feminist legacy at Celine into the dust, replacing it with retrograde "crotch-skimming cocktail dresses" for wafer-thin teenage vamps. Or as Lou Stoppard of GQ magazine put it, Slimane's slash-and-burn approach to "Celine was fucking horrible. A big fuck you to women who just wanted something non-demeaning to wear."

Even Slimane's fans admit that the man credited with inventing the much-copied skinny and the oversized looks, drove a steamroller over Philo's baby. His scorched-earth approach included calling his show "Celine 01", as if the 70 years before his arrival at the brand had not existed, and erasing Philo's clothes from the label's Instagram account.

Her back catalogue with its "great-fitting trousers" has since reappeared on two rebel Celine accounts, with her cerebral ad campaigns featuring the likes of writer Joan Didion.

'Is Slimane fashion's Trump?'

Rubbishing the work of such an iconic female designer as the #MeToo movement marked its first anniversary, and on the very night the world squirmed at the Kavanaugh Supreme Court vote in Washington, was particularly bad timing.

"Is Hedi Slimane the Donald Trump of fashion?" the Hollywood Reporter asked. "Philo was notable for not equating a woman's power with her sexuality," grieved The Guardian. Jo Ellison of the Financial Times -- who attended a Philophile wake before the show -- simmered with barely concealed fury about Slimane's approach after the decade of work Philo had put into making Celine a 800-million USD brand.

"I'm not going to blub about how a catwalk that once offered chic solution clothes in which a woman could walk with confidence, was now awash with... broken ballerina dresses in which a 17-year-old girl might walk the streets," she thundered before twisting the knife.

Slimane, the recluse who had been hiding away in Los Angeles after making hundreds of millions for Dior and Saint Laurent, was hopelessly out of touch, she implied. "The Celine show seemed to celebrate a world preserved in aspic -- super-skinny, teenage, and near exclusively white. I was hoping we might have moved on," Ellison added.

Stiletto to the heart

Vanessa Friedman of the New York Times wasted no time on niceties. "Two years ago when Mr Slimane departed fashion (and Saint Laurent), the world was a different place," she wrote. "Women were different... They have moved on. But he has not." Then Friedman delivered the stiletto heel to the heart.

"For those who feared that" Slimane's arrival meant an end to "the days when Celine defined what it meant to be a smart, adult, ambitious and elegantly neurotic woman -- you were right." Tim Banks of the Business of Fashion website was equally withering. "Slimane's instincts for the moment have dulled, but his army of Slimaniacs will surely canter towards Celine stores in blissful ignorance of the brand's recent glories."

Just as the ringing in Slimane's ears was subsiding, Fashionista's Tyler McCall branded him as a "one trick pony". Influential blogger Julie Zerbo followed that with the dagger tweet, "Hedi does Hedi (at Dior) does Hedi (at Saint Laurent) does Hedi (at Celine)..." Of the major critics, the Wall Street Journal's Christina Binkley was a rare voice in warning against writing off Slimane's Midas touch. "When Slimane launched his thing at Saint Laurent, people hated it," she said.

But the critics and the brand's owners, LVMH, "know the revenues are about to gush," she said. Fellow American fashion writer Mikelle Street agreed, observing wryly that "my favourite part of watching people tweet about Hedi Slimane is that they don't understand that there is a category of shoppers that follow him from brand to brand. So he can really do whatever he wants."

Slimaniacs, who have been waiting with baited breath for their hero's latest incarnation, jumped to his defence. But Celine's own Instagram account was full of angry and upset former customers. One heart-broken Philo fan seemed to catch the mood. "I just realised why I loved (the old) Celine so much. It's stylish, it's comfortable, it has made clothes for the future female not depending on size and age. What I saw on Friday was going back several decades."(AFP)

Photos: Celine SS19, Catwalkpictures.com