Earlier this year, my fellow GQ writer Max Berlinger made a genius observation on Twitter, suggesting that designers are so interested in bourgeoisie style right now—culottes, nice blazers, tidy sweaters, and other good taste garments—because the middle class is “quickly disappearing.” Perversely, it’s now stability, rather than opulence, that is aspirational.
For a few years now, Hedi Slimane’s Celine has been the shiny gold clasp on the tasteful handbag that is the bourgeois fashion revolution, and I wondered, as I sat waiting for the video for his new men’s collection to start on Wednesday morning, what direction our fashion soothsayer Slimane might take things. Is being middle class and pouty in a perfect little black suit still the beacon of desire, or has the pandemic made even that dream—and pant-style—feel irrelevant?
Slimane delighted me by getting out of the sober, appropriate, tasteful Saab—and revealing we’re now driving a Go-Kart. In a video filmed on a racetrack about two hours from Saint-Tropez, where he designed the collection before pandemic-mandated lockdown in March, Slimane brilliantly turned to TikTok stars (!) for inspiration. There were cardigans slunked over the shoulders and pulled down by hands slung in pockets; basketball shorts that were indistinguishable from skirts; hoodies with funky messages (“Nail Me To This Wave,” from the artist Jesse Harris’ 2017 piece, printed to hats and tees; you can totally envision 17-year-old looking at photos from the protest they attended yesterday and texting a friend, “NAIL ME!!! TO THIS WAVE!!!”). He nailed the way the internet has flattened several prints that would otherwise clash into what you might call “online neutrals”—Fair Isle is paired with leopard is paired with plaid is paired with palm tree motifs. Beanies were yanked over heads with eboy sullenness; kilts were thrown over baggy, shredded jeans; leather jackets unzipped at the shoulder to unfold like an over-loved sweater. Of course, nearly every model had nails painted, ears pierced with dangly earrings, necks layered with gnarly metal jewelry, and hair dyed freaky colors by hairstylists Esther Langham and Alex Brownsell, the latter of whom is known for her neon coiffures. (I particularly loved a model’s afro crowned with slime green.) Lots of things were embellished with crystals, but the models looked like experts with a diamante Instagram filter instead of a grand dame in her Swarovskis.
If all that didn’t make it clear, the name of the video gave it away: “The Dancing Kid.” The TikTok star, with their viral dances and a lightning bolt-length attention span and a full-throated obsession with fashion and self-expression, is the muse and icon of this era. It’s the fragile boy who sees no line between subculture and popular culture, who mashes cosy cardigans with loud printed shirts and vintage slashed jeans—perhaps even a pair Slimane designed for Dior in the early 2000s, scored on Poshmark or through an Instagram vintage fashion trade. (Of course, because this is Slimane, many pieces here were made with his other obsession, artists, including Harris as well as Tyson Reeder, Amy Sillman, Gregory Edwards, Ryan Ford, and the collective Turpentine. He said in the notes that these artists created “editions” for the collection “in the manner of a group show.” Collabs are so basic!) The clothing revolution happening on TikTok is perhaps the most directional thing happening in fashion or style: a totally original (very postmodern) collision of references and styles, but with a gentleness, a vulnerability, that defines the generation wearing it for the rest of the world. And there’s a great parallel between the way Slimane works as a designer, almost like a meme maker—he has a concise idea, like the perfect gabardine black suit, and he riffs and riffs and riffs, twisting the idea bit by bit—and the way a TikTok feed flips through memes, tweaking an idea into an incidental encyclopedia of styles, or a lookbook. What a blast.
Slimane is a madman about his soundtracks—remember in February when he got French-American musician Sofia Bolt to do a 22-minute version of her three-minute-long Television-y mood-bop “Get Out of My Head”?—and here he got Tiagz, a TikTok rap star, to create a fifteen minute version of his song “They Call Me Tiago,” his “anthem,” as Slimane’s collection notes put it. This was extra clever: on TikTok, music begets style and vice-versa. That’s actually how “Old Town Road” first became a hit—kids on TikTok would shamble around as their “normal selves,” then jump when the beat dropped and suddenly they’re in cowboy hats in plaid. In Slimane’s collection, one jacket was covered in LED lights that zoomed down the track as the show’s finale—a nod to the soft, sad, sparkle of a teenage bedroom, but also “a metaphor for reclaiming the night,” Slimane notes, now that dance parties have moved online. It would look so rad on, well, TikTok. Don’t be so down about only getting dressed for the internet—for fashion’s youngest authorities, that’s already the point.
Slimane called this “a documentary collection,” “a candid portrait” that celebrates the eboys and skate culture that are “spontaneously inventing an initiatory language anchored in dance and teen romance.” You might say a lot of Slimane collections are documentaries, but this one was also a brilliant dissection of the way fashion works now, existing extremely online, with young people combining inspirations and references with a truly egalitarian spirit. Some designers might find it sacrosanct to be so tasteless, and many are struggling to adapt to this new world where designers are no longer received as autocrats, but Slimane recognizes that these teenagers and twenty-somethings actually work like fashion designers, plundering references to create a new world. In many cases, the zoomers have beat designers at their own game. Who cares about a big corporate designer announcing Men Can Wear Skirts Now when kids are just, you know, wearing skirts? It’s not necessarily an anti-authority attitude that TikTok has, though: look at the viral phenomenon of Harry Styles fans tenderly recreating his Loewe sweater. These are people who love fashion, maybe more than anyone else alive.
A number of designers have attempted to make fashion that feels like being online—particularly the young British designer Gareth Wrighton, whose knits, like a sweater tribute to the disastrous “hanging chad” ballot that upended the 2000 election, churlishly unpack the darkness of a world shaped by the web; and Balenciaga, whose Demna Gvasalia conjures global stereotypes of wealth, like the tourist-shopper and the art collector and the political dealmaker in the ill-fitting suit, that we instantly recognize from our passive intake of the internet culture gutter. But none have really gotten TikTok, although a zillion brands have tried by signing up for the platform. Instead of trying to play along, Slimane’s collection distilled the way TikTok and fashion drive each other with terrific panache. The cosiness, delicacy, and earnestness of being young is now being lived with a loud, vivacious individuality. I don’t know that we’ve been able to say that young people truly have their own style in this way since the 1960s, when miniskirts and bikinis and ready-to-wear gave 22-year-olds their own un-Paris fashion things to fetishize. Or so I’ve heard—I’m a millennial who was raised online, baby.
At a moment when too many designers are struggling to make sense of what people should even want, it’s just Slimane and Mrs. Prada and precious few others, really, who are capable of feeling the atmosphere with a real artist’s sensitivity and declaring a new direction for fashion. This was a Slimane collection for the history books—or better yet, your future Instagram explore page.
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