H edi Slimane, Creative Director at Celine, has always put art at the centre of his practise. At Celine, he has adopted a curatorial approach, collaborating with emerging artists to commission site specific works for flagship stores worldwide, as part of the Celine Art Project. The brand's commitment to the arts runs deep and wide.
Today, visitors to Celine’s recently-opened flagship store in London’s New Bond Street can enjoy a kaleidoscopic artistic experience whilst experiencing the gorgeous architecture of the freshly renovated building. Amidst the opulent, striking designs by Slimane, specially-commissioned, site-specific art works hang from the ceilings, sit on the walls and stand throughout the multi-level shop. They are all striking, noticeably forthright in their energy and formal innovation and composition. You find yourself drawn to the sculpture, subtly juxtapositioned between clothing, footwear, accessories and fragrances. And it works - these artworks, selected by Slimane and his team, echo his ethos at Celine, combining cutting-edge experimentation, with eclectic materials and media.
Hanging from the ceiling are two giant looping wooden sculptures by Nika Neelova, made from reclaimed wooden bannisters. The beguiling forms stretching to 3 metres, create a conversation in space and appear to defy gravity. On the main floor, a characterful wood and metal figurative sculpture, entitled 'Najunga From The Kuchu Ngaali (Crested Crane) Clan' by Ugandan artist Leilah Babirye towers nine feet tall, positioned like a totem, beckoning interaction.
It's a dizzying experience, walking through the New Bond Street store, but considering Slimane's background in the visual arts as a photographer and curator, it's hardly surprising that visitors are confronted with such a wealth of art. Since taking the helm as Creative Director in 2018, promoting cutting-edge art has become a central strand of Slimane’s vision at the venerable house, founded in Paris by Celine Vipiana in 1945. Today, the bold artworks found in Celine stores worldwide are the results of Slimane's Celine Art Project, an initiative which he began in 2019, with the opening of the Madison Avenue store in New York.
To date, the Celine Art Project has built up a collection of pieces from over 40 artists from around the world, including specially-commissioned works from James Balmforth, Jose Davilla and Oscar Tuazon, on display in flagship stores. And the brand’s collection reflects its values, while allowing for Slimane’s cultural dialogue to expand beyond the exacting cut of a tweed jacket, or iconic gold hardware adorning a Triomphe chain bag. This skilful convergence enriches each medium, whilst transforming the store environment into a place of perspectives, shifting discovery and contemplation.
Delve into the characteristics of Hedi’s creative vision and you'll soon discover an abiding love of art. Take Slimane' first ready-to-wear collection for Celine, featuring dramatic, ripped patchwork shapes infused with the spirit of artist Christian Marclay’s jagged, torn surfaces. Or there was the collaboration with Stephanie Busuttil-Janssen, the last partner and muse of legendary sculptor César Baldaccini, who died in 1998. César’s trademark crushed-metal sculptures from the 1970s, using old jewellery from friends, inspired Hedi’s limited-edition series of 200 silver and vermeil pendants, featured in his Autumn/Winter 2020 collection. “I was flattered by the fact that they were interested in César’s works,” Busuttil-Janssen told The Times in June 2020. “When I saw what Slimane does with the Celine collections, it felt very connected.”
While peer-group designers work with artists on specific collections - such as Kim Jones’ beautiful colour and texture-rich collaboration with artist Peter Doig for Dior menswear AW21, or Sacai’s capsule with KAWS, Slimane’s vision encapsulates the artist into a holistic creative vision. Before Celine, Slimane's black and white portraiture of cultural icons and music-loving youth captured the humanity at the heart of the individual and the communal joy in concert and club going. An exhibition of his images shot at gigs and entitled Sun of Sound was held at Almine Rech in Shanghai this March to critical acclaim, prompting peers and pundits to wonder just how Slimane - who, by the way, also conceptualises and shoots Celine campaigns - manages to power across an astonishing 360-degree creative output.
In part, this prolific and multi-faceted practice came about during Slimane's formative years at Paris's l’Ecole du Louvre, in the late 1980s, where his fascination in specific cultural scenes started to take shape. Whilst living in the style maelstrom of Berlin, he took up residency at the city's legendary KW Institute for Contemporary Art, between 2000 and 2002, where he published his first photographic monograph Berlin (2003). Later that decade, in London, he would document the city's speedy punk rock scene of the 00s, zooming in on rock'n'roll mavericks like Razorlight, The Libertines and The Kills, in his 2006 book: Hedi Slimane Diary.
Since joining Celine, Slimane has infused this historically-bourgeoise luxury brand with his unique sensibility that could be dubbed post-minimal. The seasonal presentations (whether live or digital) have a performative edge - stages are set with architectural works within which highly choregraphed scenes play out. The collections eschew conventional signifiers of ‘status’ but instead, meticulously focus on the nobility of the item, be it beautifully-faded denim jeans, a leather bomber jacket or that simple slash of style, the skinny belt. And season on season, they gently evolve, appealing to customers who wish to curate their own wardrobes, by adding judicious pieces over time.
Through the Celine Art Project, Slimane is creating an ever-expanding community of like minds, underpinned by a shared belief in the role art plays in enriching our sense of society and culture. The Project reminds us, in case we needed reminding, that the nexus between fashion, art, style and photography is a seemingly-endless mine of creative inspiration, a crucible for ideas to leap, flashing and bouncing from each other, in showers of thrilling, sparkling artistic gems.