Céline vs Celine: Bias, agenda setting and message framing.

Hedi Slimane‘s highly anticipated debut at the helms of Celine drew widespread criticisms from fashion critics who accused Slimane of pandering to a male gaze and replicating his old work at Saint Laurent FW16. Slimane was shredded apart by unforgiving US and British media outlets.  The critics came tumbling down with unrestrained élan, accusations of misogyny, laziness, and lack of creative genius waged against the French designer.   It was a ruthless bloodbath, scathing reviews condemning the French designer for tearing down Phoebe Philo’s legacy.

Philo, Celine’s previous head designer was credited for bringing back to life an old Parisian Brand that was on the brink of death.  With the retrospect that only time affords us, I personally remember the old Céline era with its outdated style which was pompous and out of touch with the younger generation of women. It was by all account, a sad state of affairs.  Then along came, Philo, a cerebral genius who nurtured the brand back to life with her feminine sensitivity undergirded with cerebral minimalism.

 

Her sensible touch gave women agency by designing collections that did not objectify females. She created clothes for women and empowered them to take helms of their destiny, women no longer viewed as seductresses, but as resilient, confident, goal-driven individuals. Philo focused on comfort, without necessarily sacrificing elegance, but the hallmark of her style could be described as whimsical elegance. It was also undergirded with political messaging. Although subtle, women empowerment lied at the heart of her work.

 

 

On the other hand, Slimane’s distinctive style is dark, with an unwavering penchant for androgynous models (mostly whites) with sunken eyes, emaciated bone structures, malnourished bodies, exposed ribs hidden under clothes that leave very little to the imagination.

The difference couldn’t be starker:

 

Slimane’s patte (personal touch in french) is distinctive, the same way that Phoebe’s singular brush stroke lies on subdued feminism that is neither brash or cringe-inducing. Women asserting their feminity by other means than exposing their flesh.  For that Phoebe’s appeals to me. the old Céline mused with my revolutionary streak and need to break free from rigid gender constructs that dictate how I should dress as a woman.  The old Céline rose above such cliches, which is why Phoebe’s work resonated with me.

My generous curves also appreciated Phoebe’s sensibility. But with hedi now at the helms of the legendary fashion house, there is no way in hell my ass, thighs, and hips could even fit Slimane’s collection, but let’s face it: Slimane did not really have women like me in mind when designing this collection. I mean was haute couture ever designed for ordinary women? The price point alone is untenable for most of us.   Yeah, it sucks that my ass wasn’t meant to fit it the negative 0 sizes of this collection, but the world of haute couture is unforgiving.

But… this is a personal judgment and a line must be drawn when it comes to evaluating someone’s work. For that reason, I believe that the reviews waged against Slimane were harsh.

The collective anger unleased towards Slimane was laced with emotions and lacked objective discernment. I also do not buy the notion that Slimane is misogynistic as some reviewers have implied.  Showing skins within the context of going out should not be construed as objectifying women. After all, the theme of this debut collection was partying in Paris. A rock n roll theme with dark allure, but a partying theme nevertheless.  This justifies the somber color palette, and it seems that fashion critics have lost track of that important detail unless perhaps they expected Slimane to follow a puritan theme? Let’s be candid for a moment. I cannot begin to imagine having to judge people based on their clothes. Being part of a modern society entails being able to wear what I want without being labeled a slut and if that means wearing sheer clothes that reveal a lot, so be it. I know Amber Rose, Beyoncé, and the league of twerkers around the world would likely agree with me. Yes, Slimane’s style is distinctively different from Phoebe’s,  but to spearhead a smearing campaign of this scale is disingenuous.  Slimane is highly talented and far from being a misogynist individual, but don’t take my words for it. Did you notice just how gender fluid this collection was?  Take a look here:

Now take a look there too.

And here: Yes: GENDER FLUID.  So let’s squash the male gaze argument espoused by some critics because it does not hold credibility in this case.

Having said that, Slimane handled critics very poorly– a la Donald Trump (no doubts). How do you mustard to censor opposing voices and not expect a massive backlash? I get that this collection is personal to him but to actually censor fashion critics by uninviting them from his defile comes across as petty and arrogant. It certainly won’t make them shut up and will further fuel their bias while giving them ammunition to wage war with their ink. They are fashion critics after all whose words are meant to restore a balance and keep designers honest.  Slimane’s way of handling negative press reflects very poorly on him and shows enormous insecurities on his part. His approach to PR, shrouded in elitist behavior deserves to be called out, but his talent should not be undergirded with a disingenuous agenda. Fashion critics are like tight-fisted mothers unwilling to let go of their babies, in this case, their pen. They rely on unearthing every flaw and exposing vulnerability in the most ruthless of ways. They are unforgiving, relentless, and scathing, entangled in savage wars of words meant to trigger emotions–good or bad.  It’s part of the business and one that Hedi Slimane needs to get over with.

 

As for the press. There is a thing known among research communication scholars called message framing. The use of framing by the media holds an important role in influencing public opinions. Robert Entman, a communication researcher posits in fact that mass media of selected texts and imagery brings salience to heightened perceived social reality in a way that legitimizes and endorses the narrative presented.  Having studied first-hand communication theories in graduate school, I understand how behavioral and implicit bias are shaped and I believe that the press, specifically fashion critics should be held accountable and strive to really provide criticism through objective lenses.  Slimane was dragged through the mud by a predominantly anglophone press,  and I’m left wondering if there is a more sinister agenda directed at Slimane. Hedi is half Tunisian, and there might be some level of buried resentment that a half North African man would be placed at the helms of a venerable couture house.  Who knows? But what is tangibly certain is that Slimane is not a misogynist.

 

xx, Kenza

 

Phoebe Philo for Celine SS18 collection. Images via vogue

Hedi Slimane SS19 collection. Images via high snob society

Saint Laurent FW16 collection. Images via Vogue.

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