Phoebe Philo, the cult fashion designer returns

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In September 2018, on the evening of Hedi Slimane’s first fashion show for the LVMH-owned fashion brand Celine, a group of women gathered in front of La Bar Du Caveau in Paris to honor her predecessor, Phoebe Philo.

The ‘philophiles’ – among them fashion stylist Yasmin Sewell, jewelry designer Gaia Repossi and model Daniela Kocianova – were dressed in loose shirts, baroque pearl earrings and wide pleated pants, their cashmere sweaters. tied across the body in imitation of Philo herself. They were there to toast a designer who for a decade had been the de facto purveyor of the fashion crowd, revered as much for the exact fit of her pants and trench coats as for her ability to lead the way. industry season after season. .

Three years after moving away from the white-hot fashion hub – during which she focused on raising her three children in London – Philo is back. This week, the 48-year-old British designer announced that she will be launching an eponymous brand with minority backing from her former employer, LVMH. She promised clothes and accessories “of exceptional quality and design” (read: prices at the high end of the luxury goods spectrum) and said more information would be provided in January.

The announcement made waves in an industry that had long speculated that Philo would succeed Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel, or take the top job in a multibillion-dollar house such as Burberry. But Philo has long harbored the ambition to run her own label, telling The Guardian in 2009 that after leaving Chloe, owned by Richemont, where she was Creative Director from 2001 to 2006, she had explored launching her own. line, but “the weather was not good and then Celine came along and it went well.

Obtaining funding for his business was probably easier this time around. Philo, alongside Marco Gobbetti, then managing director, quintupled Celine’s sales to just over 900 million euros between 2008 and 2018, according to Citi luxury goods analyst Thomas Chauvet.

“Phoebe has an incredible talent for anticipating and creating new objects of desire for her audience,” explains Gobbetti, the outgoing CEO of Burberry who hired her in 2008. “At Céline, she had a transformative impact on fashion. and luxury, coming out of the recession and creating an incredible desire and excitement for bullion coins that are both timeless and modern.

“We were all designing for Phoebe at the end of the day,” says designer Rok Hwang of Rokh, who worked under Philo from 2008 to 2012. “She was really the muse.”

Born in Paris and raised in London, Philo received a sewing machine for her 14th birthday. She went to Central Saint Martins with Stella McCartney, of whom she was Chloe’s right-hand man before succeeding her in 2001. At Chloe, Philo ushered in the trend for doll dresses and thick leather accessories, such as the Bag. Paddington.

Known for her designs that give women the feeling of being both autonomous and elegant, her tenure at Céline has been marked by a succession of “it” bags – including the Trapeze and Luggage bags, and the Trio shoulder bag. thin – and pragmatic clothes order above retail prices on second-hand websites.

His creations often defy conventional good taste before coming to define it: lined slippers, sneakers with dresses, the unique earring. “She was the first to mix neon lights with subtle colors,” says former Barneys fashion director Marina Larroude of the trends she introduced. “Now that sounds silly, because everyone else is doing it. But whatever she put on the trail, you knew it would be what the masses were going to see over the next decade.

Described as “precise”, “private”, “enigmatic” and possessing a “clear vision”, her friends and former colleagues say that what sets her apart from other designers is a commitment to high standards – “I find the tough mediocrity, ”she told British Vogue in 2014 – and a total focus on the customer.

“Phoebe’s way of thinking is really different from anyone I’ve worked with before and after,” says a former design colleague. “Especially in a male dominated industry, which is unfortunately trendy, it’s very rare to have someone who really thinks about the end customer, and wonders if it’s practical, can you drop your kids at school doing this is the earring too heavy. “

Former colleagues say she has resisted trends proposed by Celine’s marketing teams. One remembers a long search by Philo for a suitable chain to use in a trend for chain shoulder bags, which she believed to be hollowed out of women’s shoulders. “I don’t like clothes to impose themselves on women,” Philo said of the tension between fashion and function in 2014. “They have to be used in real life. ”

Although Celine’s income grew rapidly and Barneys sold “multimillions” of Philo-designed sweaters each year, “she was not a commercial designer,” Larroude explains. “She didn’t want to make beauty and men, she didn’t want the machine. I think she wanted to keep it at a certain level. Those who know and have watched Philo closely believe she will take the same approach for her own business.

“We all naturally assumed that other brands would fill the void [left by Philo after she left Celine] and they didn’t, ”observed the former colleague. “If there’s so much excitement that she’s back, it’s because no one has been able to fill that void.”

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