Who is Phoebe Philo and why was her new brand so eagerly awaited?

Phoebe Philo: the Chloé and Céline years

Phoebe Philo is one of the most cult designers of our time. The 50-year-old designer, a graduate of the prestigious Central Saint Martins school of fashion and design, began her career at Chloé in 1997, as assistant to Stella McCartney, whom she succeeded as creative director of the fashion house from 2001 to 2006.

After a couple of years spent in London looking after her family, Phoebe returned to fashion as creative director of Céline. Céline, founded in 1945 by Céline Vipiana, was in the early 2000s a fashion house with a glorious past but a somewhat tarnished present. In Phoebe Philo’s ten years of creative direction, she has had an overwhelming revival.

The legacy of the Phoebe Philo era to Céline

Phoebe uses a very modern language, interpreting women’s desire to dress more for themselves than to seduce: her clothes are not for the executive women of the 1980s, nor for the party girls of the early 2000s. They are working women, they want to like themselves, they love art, they are free from conventions of what should or should not be worn, they want to be comfortable, but also elegant. Minimal, but not sad.

Beautiful accessories (bags!), elements of the minimalism of the 1990s, a use of colour often sober but with daring touches (the cobalt blue coat, the Klein blue prints on white dresses), the evening dress can go with furry slippers, the Birkenstock-style sandal with the stricter jackets, the tailored trousers with trainers: today, all these elements seem almost taken for granted, proposed and re-proposed in a thousand variations, but it was Phoebe Philo who introduced them.

Even the models chosen for Phoebe Philo’s Céline advertising campaigns turned an era: how can we forget the designer’s alter ego, Daria Werbowy, or the then 80-year-old Joan Didion? And this was several years before the wave of ‘inclusiveness’ (true or alleged) that we have seen in more recent years.

Joan Didion in a Cèline advertisement at the time of Phoebe Philo

The latest collection presented with Céline is pre-fall 2018. Since then, the baton has passed to Hedi Slimane, but a phenomenon has arisen that is unique in its own way: dozens of sites and accounts still offer to a crowd of collectors the iconic garments from Céline’s old collections, those signed by Philo, also known as ‘old Céline’, or ‘Céline with an accent’. Slimane, in fact, as the first move of his management decided to remove the accent from the ‘é’ in the brand name.

Phoebe Philo, the brand

From the moment in 2021 when Phoebe Philo announced that she was working on a new brand that would bear her name, industry insiders and admirers all over the world went into a frenzy. Finally, the launch has been announced for today, October 30, 2023. The collection is entitled A1, and is thought of as non-seasonal. So, what is the first impression?

Phoebe Philo seems to want to position itself at a very high end of the market (a pair of gloves costs 650 euro, a coat from 4,200 to 13,000 euro), confirming some of its stylistic traits, such as the rather neutral palette, strict lines and perfect tailoring, combined with strong elements, such as the feather trousers, or the leather bomber jacket made of strips of fabric. Personally, I still have to process all the details, perhaps at the moment the most disappointing category is the bags, which have always been one of Philo’s workhorses.

The first overall judgement is that perhaps Phoebe Philo is even too much like herself: her Céline style was also iconic for the strong presence of innovative elements, for the new attitude of the women she represented. Perhaps one would expect to find today an outgrowth of the previous vision, a new attitude, or perhaps one would need to see the development over time. In the meantime, here is a roundup of images to reflect on.

Some images from the site phoebephilo.com.