I think that I have truly been passionated by fashion, by watching Phoebe Philo’s collections at Céline. Even tough it sounds like a social cliché, I should admit that I’ve been passionated by fashion since my childhood. To a certain extend, I don’t think that back then, I was able to truly see what the fashion industry is. All I could see was the outward appearance of fashion. The real work is behind the collections. The latter are just an achievement of a tone of hidden processes. Behind talents and creations, this hidden sphere gathers many types of influences together. From society, to history, and art, fashion can be influenced by many fields. I think, Phoebe Philo’s vision is a relevant example of this multi-disciplinary aspect. Her collections were made for daily life. They could merge into your reality and your daily routine. To have this kind of ability, your clothes have to be based on various contexts. This type of creativity is quite usual, however, the line between daily life clothes and boring is quite thin. Therefore, when a designer succeeds in proposing clothes far from annoying but so close to daily life, we can’t be indifferent. She is able to make treasure pieces from daily life silhouettes. Each day can be an ode to life with her clothes. This is how I understand and feel her fashion.
Who is Phoebe Philo?
Born in France in 1973 from British parents, Phoebe is the oldest of 3 children. Her parents were living temporarily in Montmartre. She studied art and design at Central Saint Martins. In 2001, she started her career in fashion as the assistant of Stella McCartney at Chloé. In 2008, she has been nominated as the artistic direction of Céline. One of the most important moment of the fashion industry to me. From the beginning, she created collections that contrast with the general trends, mainly based on bling bling and provocation. As a vegetarian, she tried to use ethical fabrics, and banned fur. As a head of the creative sphere, she established a specific ambiance in the company. Indeed, working with her was far from the clichés we have in this universe. Of course, her unique vision has been at the center of the strategy, however, the atmosphere and the relations were not necessarily based on hierarchization, oppression and stress. Before her shows, the backstage were not on fire, it was really peaceful and well organized. If you think about it, you will realize that there are not so many backstage videos of her show for Céline. She didn’t need all this teasing and staging to catch the attention of the audience. In the backstage, only essential members were admitted. What I deeply like in Philo’s philosophy, is the fact that she has principles and she lives according to them. It means that even if the fashion industry has its diktats, she is still making a style that verbalizes her conception, her vision. She is really loyal to her own vision. This skill is not within the reach of all designers. Some are going to base all their collections on general trends and silhouettes. With Phoebe, the opposite happens. She is at the origin of many actual trends in womenswear. After all, this ability allows us to distinguish the ephemeral fashion from the eternal. Having this gift is a sign of uniqueness. In 2017, she decided to leave Céline to devote herself to her family.
Céline before Phoebe Philo
The story of this brand is quite interesting. As many traditional designer house, Céline was not, at the beginning, a womenswear label. Indeed, created in 1945 by Céline Vipiana, this brand was a child bootmaker. In 1960, Céline decided to give an other identity to her eponymous brand. She created a women collection mainly based on accessories, leather goods and gloves. Her first clothes collection will be only four years after with a collection named « Couture Sportswear », famous for its culottes and its skirts/shirt ensembles. At the beginning, Céline was a fashion brand for white posh women. Even if the prices are still really high today, the identity and the customers have quite changed. In 1987, the fashion label became international with a solid reputation in various continents such as Asia and Europe. Almost 80 shops all around the world at this time are operational. In 1996, Céline has been bought by LVMH during their huge offensive. At the same period the group bought Loewe, Dior, Louis Vuitton and Givenchy.
When Céline became Phoebe
As I said before, Phoebe Philo has created many trends that are still topical. During her time in Céline, she managed to influence many other designers with her specific definition of femininity and simplicity. She introduced a new way to dress casually with a hint of originality. Shapes, colors, patterns and fabrics were the strength of her vision. She created collections that could be integrated easily in daily life by being at the same time bold and minimalist. Dressing with her is never boring. She knows how to play with the silhouettes to create sensation of fluidity. Her first collections at Céline was for sure refreshing, but I would said that her AW 2013 collection was the beginning of her success story. From this fashion show, she became the Phoebe we know today. Slowly, Céline became Phoebe. I know, the role of a designer is to recreate the identity of the traditional fashion houses, however, I think Phoebe went beyond that. That’s why her leaving has been so hard to accept. I can’t see anyone else but her at the creative direction of Céline. Céline is Pheobe. I wouldn’t say that Pheobe is Céline because she reinvented the brand and she could do the same type of creations anywhere, even with her own brand. Céline didn’t really exist before her, and I am not sure the fashion label will survive after her. I know I’m being quite pessimistic, but I’m not really sure Heidi Slimane was the best designer for this label. I was not seduced at all with his collections for Saint Laurent. He changed all the names of the fashion houses he worked in. What would it be for Céline? Will he rename the brand Céli? I am a little bit excessive, but I am quite worried. I used to think when I was younger, « one day I’ll be a Céline Women ». Seems that it is too late.
Céline Spring – Summer 2014
Céline Autumn – Winter 2015
Céline Pre-Fall 2017
Spreading a new conception of style
As mentioned previously, Phoebe has influenced many other designers. Many of her famous items have been copied – I’m mainly thinking about the cult ‘Phantom’ bag. Her sense of refinement, shapes, modernity and femininity has inspired brands even if it is unintentional. When you look at fashion labels such as Beaufille or Solace London and even Ellery, you can immediately notice the various inspiration from Phoebe’s aesthetic. Even if I love those brands, I need to admit that it is essentially because they are inspired by this type of style. They may add or change some details, the general vision of Phoebe is deeply palpable.
Phoebe Philo might never read this article, however it doesn’t matter, I need to thank her for her contribution in the fashion industry. But above all, I want to thank her for what she did for the image of femininity and casual womenswear. By playing with superposition, using precious materials and unstructuring the status-quo she made me love contemporary womenswear. She recreated the silhouettes by making simplicity bold and thrilling. I understand the priority of family, however, I am deeply going to miss her. She was the only brand that I was waiting for during Paris Fashion Week – a little bit exaggerated, but quite true. Later, in a few years, when fashion intellectuals will study our century, I think Phoebe Philo at Céline will be a relevant representation of fashion industry at this time. As a mirror of society, Céline will be seen as a figure of this decade. This ability to be part of a social aspect of fashion is not given to every designers as you may guess. Even if there will be many talented designers after her, she will still be the most honorable one to me.