I’m Still Not Over it: Phoebe Philo Is Really Leaving Céline

It’s the Thursday night before New Year’s Eve and I have just spent 30 minutes on the Céline website surveying the current offering, primarily comprised of what is traditionally called the “Resort Collection,” but which Céline insists on calling “Spring.” (Its version of Spring is called “Summer.”) It has occurred to me too late that the sum of this collection is more or less a band-breaking-up tour in that all of the clothes seem to maintain a bittersweet “best hits” sense of nostalgia that harkens back to some of Phoebe Philo’s greatest moments at the house.

There are the light-weight lace slip dresses, like those that were shown for Spring (Summer) 16, that probably launched a million “recreational lingerie” brands. There is fantastic suiting, trench coats, knit dresses akin to what we consumed for Pre-Fall in 2015. There are more pearl earrings. Square toe mules and booties. Micro hoops. White sneakers that look like Vans yet still demand attention because of something nuanced but highly particular in the way Philo designs that always makes the other things seem dull.

There have been rumors about her departure swirling through fashion’s gossip grapevine for years, but right before the Christmas holiday, LVMH officially announced that after 10 years, Philo will leave the house in 2018. She will unveil one more collection (Pre-Fall, in January) but by the time we are mentally in Paris for Spring come March, Céline will be an orphan once again. This news threw the industry into a tizzy, but my hunch is that outside of the microcosm that defines the fashion community, few people — fans and consumers of the brand alike — even know who Phoebe Philo is.

Sure, you’ll recall the fur “Birkenstocks,” the laundry bag prints; you may remember that she put Joan Didion in an ad campaign in 2015. But her value add was much more.

She fundamentally changed the way we think about clothes; she allowed her wearers (and the designers who sought inspiration from her) to take up as much space as they wanted (big sleeves and strong shoulders have been, by and large, her contemporary contribution to the retail system), leaning into the quiet power of strong fashion (whether a navy blue sweater paired with black pants and a crisp, white shirt, or a wild pastel blazer and a counter-color pleated skirt) instead of galvanizing more obvious but less forceful noise. She heralded the era of privacy as the new luxury, offering women cloaks of invisibility without making them feel invisible (there’s a difference). She believed in inward indulgences, for us, not outward ones, for others.

When I think about Céline without Phoebe Philo, or fashion at all without Philo, I wonder who our contemporary designers will look to for inspiration without her as a role model at the top of the class. Her contribution has been so prolific and steadfast; the woman put Stan Smith back on the map for heaven’s sake! She demanded collections make us think, possibly feel uncomfortable, and espoused the values of great quality and hard work. The rumor mill suggests her next move may land her at Burberry (Céline’s former CEO joined the English mega-brand in 2017), but who will take over Céline?

Here’s to another year, and another robust game of Fashion’s Musical Chairs.

Photos via Céline.

Leandra M. Cohen

Leandra M. Cohen is the founder of Man Repeller.

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