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Hedi Slimane and Creative Directors Playing Musical Chairs

Is Chanel Hedi’s next stop?

This year’s Paris Fashion Week was more akin to an issue of Hello! than ever before. Finally, for the first time in as long as anyone can remember, the circus is taking a back seat to the tamers.

Celebrities, glamour, avant- and après-parties; all seemed a mere backdrop for the rumor mill, which has been fair frothing at the mouth, spinning ever faster out of control.

Realistically, there have been a shocking number of shake-ups of late. Frida Giannini’s surprise sacking at Gucci, in favour of the relatively unknown Alessandro Michele, Alexander Wang’s ousting to make room for Demma Gvasalia, Raf Simons walking off on Dior, Alber Elbaz and Shaw-Lan Wang’s operatic (and seemingly never-ending) saga.

But, enticing as those stories are, they all seem to be appetizers for the dedicated fashion gossip’s main course.

Hedi Slimane.

For better or worse, Mssr. Slimane is the black liquorice of fashion. Love him or hate him. Sing his name from the rooftops, or deride his hyper-expensive takes on slouchy rock-star staples and his promulgation of “manorexia.” Indifference is not something often engendered by his work.

And for the last month, the whispers have been growing ever louder.

Celebrities, glamour, avant- and après-parties; all seemed a mere backdrop for the rumor mill, which has been fair frothing at the mouth, spinning ever faster out of control.

First they said he might be leaving, due to some manner of contract dispute. Then they said that he has already left.

I heard this firsthand from a trusted manager at one of Saint Laurent’s flagship shoppes. Though he may have just been fanning the flames in an effort to convince me to finally splurge on those fawn suede Hedi boots and the black-on-black L01.

However, certain indicators suggest the truth in this. While SLP’s Public Relations department started out by categorically denying the rumors, they later back-pedaled to a terse “no comment.” Their Instagram account, which had remained blank for years (supposedly at the order of Slimane himself), has begun to post in recent weeks.

And, most tellingly, at the last-minute Saint Laurent pulled out of Paris Fashion Week, in order to schedule the event “Saint Laurent at the Palladium,” which will show “Part 1″ of both the Men and Women Fall 2016 collections on February 10, on Los Angeles, where Slimane lives, and (in)famously moved his atelier.

In part, all of these moves aren’t a huge surprise. Fashion’s greatest houses are trying to cope with a colossal shift in the market’s expectation. Facing the pressures of demand for the mix of luxe and street that’s inevitable in our quickly shifting, ‘always-on’, day-to-day reality.

For decades, designers at the major European houses continued with the soigné elegance of their forebears, but the shake up is near complete.

Balmain now signifies biker jeans and perfectos. Givenchy – waxed gloss and tattoo motifs. Balenciaga – gritty urban luxe. A gallerina who lives in the 18ème but winter weekends at the Ermitage in St Tropez.

To be fair to Wang with regards to his dismissal at Balenciaga, he was never the right choice. His downtown aesthetic is so perfectly of’ New York, and Balenciaga has always meant two things: Paris, and volume. Gvasalia’s work at Vetements has shown his intuition with regards to voluminosity, and the new Paris is clearly his oyster.

Rumors are flying that Slimane may take over his old stomping grounds at Dior (under his direction the newly minted ‘Dior Homme’ rose from the ashes like a phoenix, while pre-disgrace Galliano handled the womenswear and couture). This seems unlikely. When leaving Dior he claimed he was leaving fashion forever, while casually suggesting that he might make an exception for the house of YSL, then designed by Stefano Pilati.

Slimane’s first job as a designer was at YSL Rive Gauche, before going to Dior. He was hired personally by Pierre Bergé, and worked directly with Mssr. Mathieu-Saint-Laurent himself. He quit YSL about five minutes after learning that he would have to work under Tom Ford, and, in an event fetishized by fashionistas to the level of the moon landing, saw Yves and Bergé themselves leading a standing ovation at his first-ever Dior runway show (after the pair tellingly skipping Ford’s debut at the house of YSL the day before).

Dior will most likely wind up going to Elbaz, once his “divorce” proceedings with Wang are settled. Elbaz’ former contract and bonuses over the years awarded him nearly 10% ownership in the house of Lanvin, so his advocates have surely told him not to take on a new job until the court case is settled. No word on the supremely talented Belgian Kris van Assche’s role in that theoretical autocracy. Van Assche was Slimane’s #2 at DH before Slimane left, and has recently shuttered his eponymous house to focus exclusively on Dior.

Raf is currently strongly rumored to be in line for the house of Calvin Klein, but anyone who saw the sublime documentary Dior & I will have trouble believing it. His complaints about eschewing pure fashion in the name of parfumerie and budget meetings suggest that CK may not be his cup of tea.

Fashion’s greatest houses are trying to cope with a colossal shift in the market’s expectation. Facing the pressures of demand for the mix of luxe and street that’s inevitable in our quickly shifting, ‘always-on’, day-to-day reality.

It’s entirely plausible that Hedi will withdraw from design entirely, to focus on his photography (which, for the record, he does extraordinarily well, and to great acclaim).

There is, however, another possibility. And it’s a monster.

Karl Lagerfeld is no longer merely a designer. Totem, perhaps? An icon. A God.

But if we can lose Bowie, we can lose anyone, and “Uncle Karl” is now 82-years-old.

He has a lifetime contract at Chanel, which purportedly includes a caveat giving him the right to hand-select his eventual replacement.

And, as we all know, he absolutely adores Hedi. To the tune of losing some 90lbs in order to be able to wear Slimane’s iconoclastic Dior Homme skinny suits.

Lagerfeld is also, paradoxically, given his octogenarianism, the most modern of all designers. He has spoken often of the zeitgeist being his only allegiance, of fashion’s need for continual evolution, of the changing face of elegance.

He has kept Chanel shockingly au courant over the years, nodding to the house’s history while shifting with the tides. One can see echoes of both him and Coco Chanel herself in Slimane’s legacy to this point.

Like Karl, his intuitive understanding of quotidian luxury is extraordinary, his ability to bring couture level materiality and tailoring to everyday essentials is unrivaled.

Like Chanel, he has created not just an aesthetic of his own, but something more. A silhouette. A reinterpretation of sartorial mores that has filtered outwards into the culture at large.

Slimane has conquered the illustrious Parisian houses of Dior and Saint Laurent. Chanel seems a logical next step. He’s a po-mo punk rock Don Quixote. On a mission to “civilize,” with a dented Stratocaster in one hand, and a faded copy of Rimbaud in the other.

Is the final frontier spelled C.O.C.O?

We’re at the edge of our seat. Bet you are too…

ColumnistByron Hawes
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