How Phoebe Philo’s Céline changed your wardrobe (even if you didn’t realise it)
The prophetic designer championed women's needs in fashion
If you are a woman with so much as a mild interest in fashion, Phoebe Philo’s Céline will have changed the way you dress. Perhaps, you began as one of her Chloé girls who was charmed by her nonchalantly pretty aesthetic. Or maybe, you were won over by her recent work where her unique brand of restrained elegance has influenced the wardrobes of millions.
It’s been confirmed that Philo is stepping down as Céline creative director, confirming months of speculation about her departure. Philo is at the top of her Céline game (the label’s growth may be slowing, but critics called her latest Spring/Summer 2018 collection her best yet), so to many it might seem a surprise that she should choose now to step down.
And yet, this is exactly what she did at Chloé when she made her exit in 2006. Sales were at an all-time high (Philo boosted global sales by 60 percent in her five-year tenureship) and her styles were about as desirable as they could be (her Chloé padlock bags continued to spark bidding wars long after her departure) — then Philo just left.
Normally, when a designer resigns they leave to join another fashion house or to launch their own business, but Philo went into a self-imposed exile for two years, prioritising her family life in London.
Then in 2008, she made the surprise announcement that she would be joining Céline as creative director at a time when the storied house was a blank canvas. Michael Kors had been and gone by 2004 and the brand didn’t find its feet again until Philo joined.
Over nearly a decade, Phoebe Philo has boosted sales from €200 million to more than €700 million (although Céline is yet to harness e-commerce). What she has mastered is the perfect mix of commercialism and artistic expression.
Like Miuccia Prada, she manages to predict what you want six months before you know you do. In an industry that focuses on see-now buy-now, Philo’s clothes require a bit more thought.
Far from the razzle dazzle desirability of Saint Laurent’s crystal boots and the instant nostalgic kitsch of a Gucci bumbag, Céline is not immediately relatable to everyone; the wide-leg trousers when everyone was wearing skinnies; the furry sliders that made many initially balk but quickly became an It-shoe; the formerly dead midi-length skirt that is now ubiquitous; the slip dresses we thought were best left in the ’90s transformed for an elegant, modern woman.
Philo injects an air of cerebralism to all that she does, in part thanks to her personal image — an intelligent, sophisticated somewhat enigmatic woman who is notoriously private. Prior to Philo’s Céline, high fashion was shouty – ‘It’ girls included Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan and logos were de rigueur. Only two years before Philo’s Céline appointment, the term WAG was born, when Victoria Beckham and Cheryl Cole wore their wealth conspicuously.
Philo redefined what luxury looked like — far from the overt branding, bling and hip bone-baring hipster jeans. In their place stood polo necks, fluid shapes, oversized trapeze bags and glove shoes — a restrained, considered chic. Let us not forget it was Philo wearing Stan Smiths for her post-show bows that made us forget heels for trainers.
She brought functionality to the forefront — women who invest in the unwaveringly expensive Céline collections know that they will wear those pieces every day for years to come (as they should, given the prices). These modern classics are the building blocks of many women’s wardrobes.
The idea of having a uniform is something Philo has long championed — the Céline woman knows which key shapes and pieces suit her, rather than dressing according to the transient whims of fashion trends. While her work is defined by its control, it’s also pleasingly off-kilter — take the glove shoes for example or a midi skirt worn slightly wonky. There is a feminist, empowering air to Céline – it isn’t about looking overtly sexy or immediately easy on the eye, but rather feeling confident and strong. In fact, what Philo does is brilliantly non-conformist.
“I have no problem with a woman wearing anything as long as she has chosen to wear it for herself,” Philo said at the Vogue Festival in 2014. “But I do think there are too many images of women that are sexualised and too many examples of women dressing for other people and disempowering themselves in the process.”
There’s a lot that Philo has contributed to fashion, but perhaps her most potent legacy is this; she makes everyday life more beautiful for a lot of women.
From: ELLE UK