Phoebe Philo’s Prophetic Fashion
By WHITNEY VARGAS
February 14, 2014
At Phoebe Philo’s Céline, boundary-breaking fashion is secondary to the meaning behind the clothes.
That is what Phoebe Philo’s clothes for Céline make you feel. Not romantic, like Valentino. Or dark and edgy, like Saint Laurent. Simply invisible. A woman in a perfectly cut shirt and a pair of pants. And, oh, what a relief! Because we are busy. We work. We wipe our children’s mouths with the backs of our hands as we rush out the door. We don’t have time to consider whether our prints match or our buttons align. To try on different outfits each morning, like so many different personalities. To fuss and preen. That seems silly, somehow weak. Despite Philo’s many best efforts, there is a Céline uniform: large, slouchy trousers; a collarless shirt; flats; a tuxedo jacket — preferably in navy, black or cream. The clothes are quiet and not meant to make a statement. And so you look invisible. Able to be viewed for more than your surface appearance. This is power dressing.
The idea that quiet fashion now conveys power is ironic, given that for years that spot has been defined by bright colors, broad shoulders, wide lapels, cinched waistlines — caricatures of exaggerated severity. Since Philo took over as creative director of Céline six years ago, she has consistently designed collections that have changed the course of fashion, steering women toward a more classic and practical way of dressing. There are many designers who make beautifully constructed clothes of the highest quality, Philo among them. But her specialness lies in synthesizing how women want to dress with how they actually live their lives. And how we want to see ourselves: sophisticated, knowledgeable, not victimized by fashion. Increasingly, comfort is the ultimate commodification of luxury. At Céline, this has translated into silk pants that puddle at the ankles, roomy coats that borrow from men’s wear, even fur-lined Birkenstocks.
More concerned with the subtraction of details than with their addition, Philo is often labeled a minimalist. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. Open a wool coat, and the seams are lined in rubber. Notice how a cashmere sweater is knit so densely that it hangs away from the body. (The main criticism against Céline is that the clothes are too expensive. For that, we now have Zara.) Yet as subtle as the Céline code is, each season there are giveaways that are recognizable to those in the know, such as a longer sleeve or a topcoat without a closure. Things look accidental but are actually entirely purposeful.
Phoebe Philo’s Céline Boundary-breaking fashion is secondary to the meaning behind the clothes.
Adding to the Céline mystique is the designer herself. For anyone who follows fashion, it’s impossible to think of the French house without first thinking of Philo. She’s the best advertisement for the brand. A mother of three who quit the top position at Chloé, in part to spend time with her new daughter, then famously refused to relocate her family from London to Paris when she got the Céline job, she has firmly prioritized what matters most. Her intentionally mousy hair and no makeup are the mark of a woman who relies on more than looks to get her way. And she rarely talks to the press, preferring that her collections speak for themselves — which, of course, is its own brilliant marketing tool. But, really, what would she say? That she’s a woman who thinks about women? That she was inspired by these modern times we live in? That’s already abundantly clear. Ultimately, for Philo, it’s about the work. And isn’t that what all of us ever hope to say?
THE MAKING OF THE MYTHOLOGY
Resort 2010 Philo’s first collection for Céline, which marked the new dawn of minimalism and the importance of perfect separates. Spring 2010 Confirmed some of Céline’s signatures, including utilitarian fabrics such as jute, pique and leather trim. Fall 2010 Showcased Philo’s restraint when it comes to color, focusing on black, navy and cream. Winter staples, like shearlings and knits, were subtly updated to feel modern.
Spring 2011 Philo loosened up and kick-started the craze for a roomier, luxe silhouette, featuring silk pajama dressing, woven Baja sweaters and racer-back jumpsuits. Fall 2011 Suddenly, a simple color-block sweater became high fashion. Resort 2012 In one of Philo’s best collections to date, she moved toward bolder statement pieces: leather patchwork, floral leather biker jackets, super-wide pilgrim belts.
Prefall 2012 Defined the slouchy Céline silhouette, with oversize suiting and coats influenced by men’s wear. Fall 2012 A continuation of oversize volume and color-blocking, this time with fur, in primary colors and shots of hot pink. Spring 2013 Philo’s nod to the ’90s, done with a deconstructed ease: ankle-grazing dresses with raw edges, pants that pooled on the floor and the now-ubiquitous fur Birkenstocks.
Fall 2013 Céline’s season of cozy. Philo created the idea of comfort as the ultimate luxury: Dresses were knotted in the front for a bundled effect; fabrics were nubby; bags were cuddled like water bottles. Resort 2014 Philo continued to challenge the fashion calendar and designed seasonless clothes, showcasing Céline’s trademark fur coats alongside linen canvas cargo pants.
Spring 2014 Surprised the industry once again with a colorful collection of artful tribal prints and exuberant accessories.