What Hedi Slimane's Saint Laurent Collection Tells Us About Fashion

Hadley Freeman, The Guardian, March 11, 2013

So now that this season's round of fashion shows has ended, what have we learned this time?

Quite a lot, actually, and I'm not talking about cocoon jackets or Chanel's apparent promise of world domination. (Most people seemed to see Chanel's show last week, featuring a giant centre-stage globe on which all of Chanel's boutiques were highlighted, as a charming example of Karl Lagerfeld's grandiosity. Those of us who have spent perhaps too many years of our lives reading about the Nazis found the whole thing a bit Nuremberg, not least because Coco Chanel herself was allegedly not so averse to the Nazis herself.)

No, I'm talking about the relationship between fashion journalists and designers and what fashion journalists expect from womenswear designers and, in particular, one womenswear designer especially: Monsieur Hedi Slimane, formerly of Dior Homme and now of Saint Laurent womenswear. As Margo Channing would say, fasten your seatbelts, it's going to be a bumpy night.

It is a general given that fashion journalists never give negative reviews, mainly because they can't upset their advertisers, partly because designers are all oversensitive idiots who will then ban them from their next show and partly because fashion journalists are flossy-headed fools who just think everything is great as long as it has a designer label on it. The first point is largely fair: fashion publications (magazines, mainly) are dependent on advertisers. The second point about designers banning journalists who have displeased them is true, too, as I know from personal experience. However, it is not true – as I once thought – that this ridiculous display of neuroticism is limited only to the fashion world. Last year when I went to Los Angeles to cover the Oscars for the Guardian I learned upon landing that I had been personally blacklisted from every single party in town connected to Harvey Weinstein because someone had written something about ol' Harv in the paper that wasn't 100% positive. Seeing as I was so jetlagged I was nearly cross-eyed, I wasn't overly heartbroken at the thought of not being able to go to a party but seriously, Harvey, if you want a puff piece in the paper, buy an advert. You can afford it. The rest is something called "journalism".

As for the idea that fashion journalists are toffee-brained nincompoops, I'm not even going to dignify that with my time and word count.

Last week, Slimane showed his second collection for Saint Laurent (Slimane has dropped the "Yves" from the label name. Let's not get started on that now; one controversy at a time.) Now, Saint Laurent is a mega brand and, therefore, a mega advertiser. So, going by the above cliches and assumptions, the reviews should have been nigh-on-pornographic in their adoration. But they were not.

This is Slimane's second show for the label and while his first back in October was seen by some as so 1970s it verged on a parody of classic Saint Laurent style, his new one was seen by many as, well, a parody. Of what, though, nobody seemed to be sure.

If you haven't seen the collection, it basically looks like a jazzed up rail of Morgan from the 1990s, with grunge-style little dresses, skirts and tartan shirts. All a far cry from classic Saint Laurent style, to be sure. And guess what? People hated it. The Daily Telegraph dismissed it as relying on "the styling tics of a 20-year-old teenage revolution". The FT opted for "bad Topshop", a sentiment repeated by Vogue if in more Vogue-ified language, decreeing it "contemporary market on the runway".

So aside from this, hopefully bringing an end to the suggestion that fashion journalism is full of sycophancy, another thing to note is how much more conservative women's fashion is than men's. When Slimane was at Dior Homme, he basically did exactly what he has just done at Saint Laurent, shucking off the old-fashioned style of that label and making the models in his shows look like Pete Doherty. And did the men's press complain that it looked like Topman? They did not. They freaking loved those clothes. Funny, huh?

So while I am very much of the opinion that the Saint Laurent collection looked like Forever 21 on a bad day, there is also a lot to be said for a fashion collection that is not just trying to make women look like rich bankers' wives, as is the usual state of things. If Slimane can change that trend, and if this whole furore can put an end to people assuming that fashion journalists are all sycophantic purveyors of PR nonsense, well, that's probably worth some overpriced tartan shirts in my book.

Post your questions to Hadley Freeman, Ask Hadley, The Guardian, Kings Place, 90 York Way, London N1 9GU. Email [email protected]

This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk