The Gospel according to Phoebe Philo



Phoebe Philon. Credit: Getty Images

What makes a fashion icon? In our time, it is a difficult expression to define clearly. Thanks to Instagram, designers, models and it-girls are in and out of vogue at breakneck speed, and quiet performers with career longevity are often overlooked. But if you’re looking for a good working definition, your safest bet is to start with Phoebe Philo and work your way back. The British designer, best known for her French heritage mandates houses Céline and Chloé, create clothes that reduce women who are otherwise sensitive to history. The New York Times called her “the Chanel of her generation”. The Guardian called its “Female Gaze” aesthetic the most influential sartorial movement since Dior’s “New Look” in the 1960s. So where has she been for the past four years?

To understand Philo’s future – namely the eponymous label that it is launching with the support of LVMH in early 2022 – it is essential to understand its past. The Paris-born, London-based designer began her career at Central Saint Martins, where she met and quickly bonded with fellow student Stella McCartney. During the early years of her career, Philo worked under McCartney when she took over the reins from Karl Lagerfeld at Chloe. When McCartney left to launch her eponymous brand in 2001, then 28-year-old Philo herself took on the role of Creative Director. It’s hard to overstate the impact of Philo’s five years at Chloe on modern fashion. Not only was her bohemian-inspired feminine aesthetic a commercial success – she increased Chloe’s worldwide sales by 60% – it was also a cultural success. Her wide-leg, high-waisted jeans, chunky wedge sandals, Greek-style chiffon dresses and range of cult handbags (the Chloe Paddington being the best example) have become the ubiquitous high-end style look of the years. 2000. In a 2008 interview with journalist Hadley Freeman – conducted before Philo created a one-of-a-kind piece for Celine – Freeman called Philo “the most influential women’s clothing designer of this century” on the basis of her tenure alone. Chloe.

Phoebe philo
From left to right from the back: Spring 2002, Spring 2004, Fall 2005, Fall 2005, Fall 2005, Chloé. Fall / Winter 2008-2009, Fall / Winter 2008-2009, Spring / Summer 2010, Spring / Summer 2010, Spring / Summer 2010, Spring 2011, Spring 2011, Spring 2011, Fall / Winter 2012, Fall / Winter 2012, Spring 2012 , Spring 2012, Spring / Summer 2015, Spring / Summer 2015, Spring / Summer 2015, Spring 2016, Spring 2016, Spring 2016, Spring 2017, Spring 2017, Spring 2017, Spring 2017, Fall 2017, Fall 2017, Spring / Summer 2018 , Spring / Summer 2018, Spring / Summer 2018, Spring / Summer 2018, Fall 2018, Fall 2018, Fall 2018, Fall 2018, Fall 2018, Céline

But of course, it was at Céline, from which she took over in 2008, that Philo consolidated his status as the god of fashion. At Chloé, Philo made the wardrobe of the It-girl of the mid-90s. At Céline, then a brand of languid French heritage, she wanted to create the uniform of the sophisticated working woman. Philo, then 38 and a mother of two young children, quickly established an aesthetic MO for new woman Celine: tasteful cuts, unexpected pops of color, exaggerated silhouettes and simple, sometimes awkward accessories – from simple gold earrings, oversized puffy clutch bags, ugly shoes. The look, defined by Philo as “contemporary minimalism” behind the scenes of his first show, went on to define the mid-2010s look, inspiring The Row by the Olsen twins, Elin Kling’s Totême, and Catherine Holstein’s Khaite. It looked like a visual palette cleanser of the left-chic velor tracksuits and Ugg boots that defined the Y2K wardrobe, and it struck a chord with a generation of active women who didn’t necessarily find empowerment or sex. -appeal in bodycon dresses and six-inch heels.

Philo’s artistic execution, including his minimal campaigns focused on Jeurgen Teller and his choice to pick then-81-year-old Joan Didion to embody the Spring / Summer 2015 campaign, made Celine the brand of the Thoughtful Woman. Her handbags, including the Phantom, Trapeze, and Trio, became cult favorites, while her fan base – self-identified as “Philophiles” – ranged from hard-to-please fashion editors to the ever-popular Kardashians. emerging. “She’s always had these key fashion moments – but her designs are incredibly timeless,” says Fiona Stuart, founder of West London vintage store Rellik. “They are always made with the most magnificent fabrics and always very well cut. They are very feminine but also have a tomboy side. It’s a kind of feminine masculinity. I reread a fantastic quote from Phoebe the other day, she said, “After my break it seemed better to work on a wardrobe idea rather than too much of a trend. I have worked hard to create things that stand the test of time. It’s still what clothes looked like, as part of a timeless wardrobe rather than part of a trend.

When Philo announced in 2018 that she was leaving Celine after a decade at the helm, the fashion guys entered a state of prolonged mourning. In Paris, a clique of well-heeled front row regulars including Yasmin Sewell, Gaia Repossi and Giorgia Tordini, gathered at Place Dauphine, dressed in their finest sons Philo, to mourn the end of an era. Speculation about Philo’s future was rife – some suggested Chanel, others Alaïa or Bottega Veneta (the latter was a position his director of ready-to-wear, Daniel Lee, would take on with confidence).

Phoebe philo
The Trapeze Bag, Céline

But, like the woman who once said that “the chicest thing is not to appear on Google”, Philo has simply disappeared. His successor, Hedi Slimane, quickly arrived, not only mowing down the famous the acute accent, but by overhauling the entire Philo-pour-Céline aesthetic. The final seasons of Philo’s tenure became immediately iconic, and the resale price of Philo’s archival pieces skyrocketed.

“I started on the track exclusively for Alexander Wang [in 2015], and then that season, I also walked my first Céline show in Paris, ”explains model Charlee Fraser. “There was a backstage photo they took of me that Celine’s team really liked, so I booked Celine’s next two or three campaigns from that photo.” Fraser has gone on to wear some of the most memorable looks from Celine’s archives, marching in back-to-back catwalks throughout Philo’s last three years. There was Fall / Winter 2016, look 14 – the bright orange poncho and loose pants. Spring / Summer 2017, look 10 – the big black chiffon dress and mismatched boots. Spring / Summer 2018, look two – a swirl of meticulous beige overlays. “When I first started doing international catwalks, I was so undereducated about the fashion industry that I didn’t know how [Celine] was. I look back now and think ‘This is crazy’, ”says Fraser. “There was a season, I think it was in 2018, where I did this beige look – it was a double raincoat situation – and that specific image went viral. It turned out to be one of Celine’s most iconic collections that I obviously didn’t know at the time, but looking back on it now, it’s like ‘Wow’. I feel incredibly blessed to have been a part of that time.

There was a palpable sense of an end in the months and years after Philo left. His fashion influence was seen everywhere – alongside Lee’s obscene tenure at Bottega Veneta was the runaway success of Peter Do and Rokh Hwang, also both former designers of Philo’s Celine studio. But Philo’s loyal acolytes were watching for an announcement that would finally arrive on July 12, 2021: “Phoebe Philo is launching her own brand, supported by LVMH”, we read triumphantly. Fashion business big title. Cue: a proverbial digital fusion. “Finally, copiers will have new hardware to work with,” one Twitter user joked. “I have to get really rich before Phoebe Philo launches her brand,” another joked.

Phoebe philo
Céline Spring Summer 2015 campaign, with Joan Didion

“I’ve seen people come into the store and say ‘I’m so excited!’ Laughs Stuart, who has regularly sold pieces from the Philo’s Celine archives for five years. “There has certainly been a resurgence of interest since the announcement, but I don’t think people have ever stopped loving and buying her clothes.” Stuart – whose fan base includes Kate Moss, and whose store is frequented by the world’s most esteemed creative directors, including Philo – says the key to Philo’s appeal lies in his proprioception, or the way you you feel as you move around the world as you wear its pieces. “There is a feeling of comfort in clothes and accessories that has a noticeable impact on the way you feel and act,” she says. “The pouch bag is technically a pouch, but it has the comfort of a hot water bottle. Coats or ponchos are beautiful outerwear, but you feel like you’ve been wrapped in a blanket. Very few designers make you feel that way.

Philo and her husband, gallery owner Max Wigram, will be the sole directors of the company Phoebe Philo, which will receive financial support from luxury conglomerate LVMH. “I am very much looking forward to reconnecting with my audience and people around the world,” Philo said in a characteristic brief statement. “Being independent, governing and experimenting on my own terms is extremely important to me.” The line’s arrival comes at a defining moment for the fashion industry, which has been hit particularly hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. Retail stalwarts like Neiman Marcus and J Crew filed for bankruptcy early in the pandemic, while most luxury retailers have seen double-digit declines in the first quarter of 2020. Now, in 2021, the promise of “hot vax summer” has not come true, and with a global recession and precarious international travel restrictions, Philo is re-entering the industry during one of its most difficult times in recent memory. Yet if anyone is up to the task, it’s her. Philo’s runaway success at Celine (estimates suggest she increased the brand’s annual revenue from $ 200 million to $ 700 million). euros per year) follows the 2008 recession. It was a challenge that ultimately worked to his advantage: his sleek designs demonstrated a more low-key and low-key attitude towards displaying his wealth.

Sadly, we won’t see how the defining designer of our generation reacts to this new fashion climate until 2022. Which means we have a few months to agonize over what her debut will look like. But if the past four years have taught us anything, it’s that Phoebe Philo is worth the wait.



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