Hedi Slimane is the only designer on earth who can make pants headline news. In his Spring 2022 “Cosmic Cruiser” collection for Celine, the man who put the world into skinny jeans abandoned his beloved silhouette for a newer, younger model: a pair of blousy denim trousers called the ELEPHANT. This was a big deal. And to understand how we got here, you have to look at how high fashion and TikTok’s strange, ambivalent relationship—a relationship Slimane seems to understand better than any of his peers.
How has TikTok changed fashion? For one thing, it’s made things more individual, more daring, more youthful. Compare the way that Instagram’s algorithm works with TikTok’s: Instagram wants you to look at what everyone else is looking at or engaging with, whereas TikTok serves you more of whatever you watch the most. TikTok is designed to reward individual passion, or at least obsession, whereas Instagram encourages collective myopia. The TikTok attitude seems to have moved beyond the bounds of the app to real life: in New York and online, the streets are crowded with people wearing insane, almost irrational outfits. The obsessive hunt for specific pieces, especially vintage, instead of one-thing-solves-all brands has led to something of a vintage market bubble: Etsy recently bought Depop, the resale platform where fashion trends are revised and remixed, for $1.6 billion.
On the other hand, though, TikTok’s real fashion influence has been…limited. The TikTok sensibility has filtered into fashion houses awkwardly, bringing us crop top suits and short-shorts: clothes for the young and fluid, inspired by those who can’t afford the stuff but are very clever about replicating online a look they see on a famous influencer or K-pop star. Outside of these overtures, TikTok presents something of an alternative fashion reality, a world with its own trends (bikini tops tied into evermore rococo stylings), its own star designers (John Galliano-era Dior and Jean-Paul Gaultier), and arbiters of taste. There are even different brands, which rarely break into mainstream fashion media, like Shein and Pretty Little Thing, except to be subjected to questioning about their pricing and labor ethics. The resulting TikTok aesthetic is fascinating in part because of its mish-mash quality—its premise, as I’ve written before, is that all trends, subcultures, and styles exist on a single plane with no history, presenting an equal-opportunity buffet of stuff from which to choose. What makes it even more interesting is that, unlike most style subcultures, its practitioners often care little for the source material behind a look. TikTok makes it almost impossible to figure out where a joke, song, image, or style came from. It can be difficult for a designer, or a brand, to get any kind of handle on how to design with the platform in mind—unlike Instagram, whose streaming services and neat ability to frame events and people made it a natural ally to designers and brands.
The only designer brave enough to bridge these two worlds is Slimane. Since last summer, when he released his collection “The Dancing Kid,” he’s been engaged in a project that filters TikTok “style” through the fashion system, recreating the platform’s trends and personalized novelties with the resources and values of a French fashion house operating at its zenith. Crucially, he debuts these collections with short films, not TikToks, but he utilizes the sensibility: look at the way the dirt bikers in “Cosmic Cruiser” fly into the air and land in tandem with Izzy Camina, who made the show’s looped soundtrack, singing, “We go up / and we go down.” Slimane knows that editing is what makes a TikTok user an auteur.
“Cosmic Cruiser” is his third such video, and shows Slimane’s genius at taking a very granular, hyper-individualized way of consuming or replicating fashion and assembling it into a collection of meaningful pieces. It’s a dirt bike extravaganza filmed on a rocky island in France, with greasy haired guys in sequined blazers, tulle skirts, cuban-heeled boots, harnesses, and chokers. Every model in these shows truly embodies the style: not only is the casting strong, but the styling and the fit of the clothing is maniacally precise and designed as a kind of flashy protection. The models have a sense of ownership over the clothes; Slimane knows these boys are sensitive on the surface, and you can see that in the very positioning of the pockets into which they stuff their fists. The trick—though it’s much bigger than a mere trick—is that while Slimane’s muses don’t really know or care where their puppy-print cardigans or sequined caftans or big jeans come from, Slimane does. In fact, his whole career has been about these kinds of references, an encyclopedic knowledge of youth subcultures. He can trace the etymology of various kinds of jeans, sunset prints, and ways of tying a shirt around your waist. He’s replaced Rose Bowl Flea Market browsing with Depop scrolling.
Baggy jeans and pants have been ascendant for several seasons now (it’s been the dominant silhouette at Balenciaga since Demna Gvasalia took over in 2015). But it should make you smile that Slimane is doing it now. He’s a designer who cares deeply about desire and timing, two principles abandoned by most other designers, who favor the heavy-handedness of a political message. So is it any coincidence that this is Slimane’s first collection since skinny jeans were declared cheugy? He seems to know that it’s better to have the right word rather than the first. The ELEPHANT is a reminder that he is fashion’s most serious disciplinarian—or maybe its biggest perfectionist. His big jeans are not just baggy but a little too long, with a pre-distressed hem at the heel. Then he throws over tie-dyed wide legs a shredded-hem denim shirt and a snakeskin bomber—something that looks appealingly sloppy but that you know took the designer hours, maybe even days, to get just right. Slimane shows how fragmentary taste can become something coherent—in the process solving a creative problem bedeviling countless musicians and especially filmmakers in this TikTok vs. IRL landscape.
Slimane’s TikTok collections have been characterized as an about-face from the bourgeois, 1970s Paris fantasy Slimane explored for his first several seasons at Celine: French girls with messy hair in pencil jeans and shearling boots and Chanel-ish jackets on their way to meet their moms for lunch before an afternoon of shopping; boys in gabardine suits arguing with their fathers over modest trust funds. And many among the online commentariat of hf twitter and Instagram find Slimane’s TikTok stuff to be cloying. I find it to be ingenious social commentary about the state of aspiration, how the endless scroll became the favored pastime and sensibility of the new leisure class. In point of fact, TikTok is the new bourgeoisie: a class of bored and restless youth with their own values, their own anxieties wrought by technological advancement, and increasingly, their very own reality. The entirety of Slimane’s show notes read:
RIDING A NEW AGE
RESTLESS DREAMS OF A COSMIC TEEN
Riding the wave of restlessness: sounds like a Rimbaud-ish description of scrolling through the feed to me.