With his two biggest fans, Lady Gaga and Karl Lagerfeld, sitting next to each other in the front row, Slimane drew a pitch-black portrait of his hometown which he called “Paris The Night”.
He turned the Invalides — where Napoleon rests in his tomb — into a giant shadowy nightclub, sending out 68 of his 72 models in looks hewn from a new deep midnight black he has been working on for the last nine months.
The “Sultan of skinny” stayed true to his very personal style, with skinny ties, slinky black suits and leather jackets for both men and women. And the bulk of his models wore the black shades through which he sees the world.
The message was clear. The much-admired minimalist vibe of his British predecessor Phoebe Philo at Celine was history. This was Slimane's vision.
While some of her fans cried foul on social media, the Wall Street Journal's critic Christina Binkley said Slimane has the Midas touch.
“When Slimane launched his thing at Saint Laurent, people hated on it,” she said. “He just launched his thing at Celine — no less stark a brand reset — and there will be broad applause aside from a few careful critics. The difference — they know the revenues are about to gush.”
Yet there were subtle new twists on Slimane's eternal motifs. The man who is credited with inventing both the skinny and oversized looks that have dominated fashion over the last decade lengthened his men's suits and refined the mini-dresses he showed previously at Saint Laurent.
Flashes of white and silver cut through the dark with black and white striped shirts and coats, studs and sparingly deployed sequins.
Here and there a blazing two-tone leopard print raincoat or a gold or red lame dress lifted the uber cool gloom. Critics hailed it as Slimane at his most uncompromising and hardcore.
“For those expecting the new Celine to look like Saint Laurent, you were not wrong,” tweeted Tyler McCall, of the Fashionista website, referring to the label that Slimane walked away from two years ago.
Influential blogger Julie Zerbo added, “Hedi does Hedi (at Dior) does Hedi (at Saint Laurent) does Hedi (at Celine)….”
“Looks like black is the new black after all,” was the verdict of style magazine Dazed.
Earlier the painfully private Slimane, 50, who confessed that has been plagued by tinnitus over the last year, said that he would remain true to himself.
“I stand firm for my principles. Why should I give up on what defines me? Becoming someone else on the pretext that what I did in the past has been digested or imitated” was nonsense, he told the French daily Le Figaro.
He had also hinted that he was plotting a revolution at Celine, which luxury goods giant LVMH had given him carte blanche to remake in his image.
Journey into the night
That made him the most powerful designer in fashion after Lagerfeld at Chanel, who once famously shed 41 kilos (90 pounds) to squeeze into Slimane's skinny jeans.
Slimane is adding a men's line at Celine and has already dropped the accent from the brand's logo.
“You don't shake things up by avoiding making waves,” he said. “When there is no debate it's blind conformity.”
The show was much less androgynous than many had expected with Slimane going for a far more feminine look for his women, many sporting veiled fascinators.
“I love Paris by night. I grew up between the smoke of Le Palace and the white tiles of Les Bains-Douches (nightclubs),” the reclusive designer had said before the show in a rare interview.
“It's a pity that the city is eager to close down interesting places like those now and turn its back on Parisian nights. The lights still remain, though. The magic of the neons in the cafes, the sparkling Parisian youth,” said the designer, who has lived in Los Angeles since 2008.
Yet Slimane respected the neighbours with his journey to the end of the night by keeping the noise down. With military drummers beating out a gentle march throughout the show, there was no danger he would wake Napoleon under his dome.
By AFP's Fiachra Gibbons