The Old Céline Underground: A Personal Quest For the Rarest Phoebe Philo-Era Pieces On and Off the Internet

Scouring the web, Instagram, vintage shops, and whisper networks for the greatest fashion treasures of them all.


Like many right-out-of-school fashion assistants during the recession, I wasn’t exactly running to my nearest Céline store to snap up Phoebe Philo’s now-iconic Luggage bag, which debuted in 2010. Needless to say, in the past 14 months since the surprising announcement that Philo would step down from her post at Céline, I have been making up for lost time.

From that fateful day in December 2017 to Hedi Slimane’s decisive debut for the label last September, all anyone could talk about was who would fill the void that Philo left behind: Who would design for the thinking woman who also wanted to feel an emotional connection to what she wore? While some argued that The Row would be the natural successor to Old Céline, as everyone was now calling it, others saw Philo’s embrace of craft and texture in Jonathan Anderson’s Loewe. And then there were those loyal fans, possibly still in denial, who seemed determined to carry on as if it didn’t happen and continue buying up their favorite Céline pieces—only not in a gorgeous store with mixed-marble fixtures, but online or through Instagram.

As the last pieces of the Philo-esque studio collection filters out of Celine stores to make way for Slimane’s designs, Philo-philes are left wondering how and where they can find the best Old Céline. Does 35-year-old former model and Céline muse Daria Werbowy have a stash somewhere of every item she has ever worn for a campaign? I like to picture her throwing open the door to her closet in the morning, pulling on a pair of striped white, blue, and green Céline pants, grabbing her orange skateboard from the 2011 Juergen Teller-shot campaign, and going off on her merry way into blissful retirement. And what about Joan Didion, she of the viral huge sunglasses ads? Or what about the 200,000-plus individuals who follow @oldceline, a Instagram account dedicated to all things Phoebe? What amazing pieces are lurking in their closets? What about Philo herself? How many of those oversized turtleneck sweaters that she wore in a now-iconic David Sims portrait does she actually own?

Joan Didion for Céline. Courtesy of the brand.

And, most importantly, how do I get my hands on a pair of beige and black Madame boots in a 37, or that Foulard collection blouse that Kanye West made famous?

Oh yes, the Kanye blouse that broke the internet. Did you forget about that one? West wore it at Coachella in 2011, and then Travis Scott appeared to wear a similar one in 2018. Well, apparently, that particular Céline piece is the most rare find today. “By far, the foulard top,” exclaimed Sabrina Marshall, when I asked her which were the most difficult-to-find Old Céline ready-to-wear. Marshall is one half of the duo behind Resee, a Paris-based fashion and vintage emporium. “There was a bidding war when that one came in [to Resee]. It was a collector’s piece—Japan, America, everyone went nuts.”

2011 Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival – Day 3. Getty Images.

Tim Mosenfelder

And they went nuts simply because pieces like that do not show up in the secondhand market as often as one would imagine. According to Charles Gorra, the CEO of Rebag, a secondhand marketplace for luxury bags, “Ninety percent of old Céline owners are not necessarily looking to sell their Céline.” And Sasha Skoda, The Real Real’s director of women’s, echoed his sentiment. There is “less Céline product out in the market than ever before,” she said, noting, “most Céline sells in the first 30 days on The Real Real.”

In a move to up my chances of securing the iconic pieces I have had my eye on, I decided to sign up for The Real Real’s First Look Members Club. The program is designed to give “collectors” 24 hours advance notice of all new sales on the site. Skoda said that this was potentially the best way for me to try and get my hands on pieces like 2011’s scarf or foulard print collection, 2014’s paint splatter prints, and 2017’s Yves Klein dresses, all of which tend to sell the moment they hit the site—which they rarely do. While I managed to come across some great knitwear, which The Real Real says is the bread and butter of their Old Céline sales, as well as the box bag (a veritable It bag), no rare ready-to-wear pieces were to be found in a size small in time to wear for Fashion Week. Much like Instagram, The Real Real’s app was addicting for this fashion fan, and the despair I felt when one of my favorite items sold to someone else was becoming a little too real. It was time to try another tactic.

I had the pleasure of meeting Marie Blanchet a couple of years ago in Paris, when she was the head of vintage at Vestiaire Collective, France’s answer to The Real Real. We hit it off right away, and after observing all of the iconic Yves Saint Laurent in her wardrobe, I knew she’d be of help in my quest for Old Céline. My timing couldn’t have been better. Blanchet had just moved to London to become the CEO of William Vintage, the iconic vintage retailer that has been dressing Meghan Markle of late, and she had been thinking a lot about how individuals collect more recent labels and collections in addition to vintage.

“When we source vintage, we feel a bit like treasure hunters,” Blanchet explained. “But most often, it’s very organic. Owners get in touch with us when they are ready to part ways with their vintage pieces. They trust that their pieces will be treated with respect and love and will eventually be sold to a person who shares that same respect and passion.” The team at Resee also believe that it is the quality-of-afterlife factor that compels women to come to them with their most coveted items. “People will only give us a couple pieces the first time; it’s the second time that we’ll buy everything,” Marshall explained.

Of course, money is an object, too. “Parting ways with these pieces can result in a very good profit, with the re-sell on some of these pieces quite high due to both the rarity and demand on them,” said Australia-based personal shopper Gab Waller. Waller rather famously came to the rescue of supermodel Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, who had announced via Instagram Stories that she was desperately searching for a Philo-era wool coat with the food names like “macaroon” printed on it. A fashion blogger who saw Huntington-Whiteley’s Stories then tipped the supermodel off to Waller. Within weeks, Huntington-Whiteley had posted a snap of herself wearing the gray wool coat to Instagram. Randomly enough, Hailey Beiber decided she wanted that same Old Céline coat, too. Again, Waller came to the rescue.

At this point, I knew that if I wanted to stock my closet full with great Old Céline classics, The Real Real would do the job. But if I needed something rare, it might be worth enlisting a personal shopper. Sourcing via Instagram can be helpful, but at the end of the day, it can’t replace an expert. “Call me your very own little secret fashion weapon,” Waller said to me. “I will do absolutely everything I can to hunt it down for you through my various sources,” she added, though much to my chagrin the Madame boots are “in extremely high demand,” which explained why one of the few pairs I could find for sale were going for well over $2,000 on eBay. “It’s a magical and inexplicable process how we end up finding some of the most extraordinary pieces in places you’d never expect,” Blanchet said, adding that William Vintage indeed does work with clients to track down specific looks.

Much like investigative journalists, however, personal shoppers tend to protect their sources. Which means we may never find out exactly where the best Old Céline pieces come from. Though I did wonder: Do Frenchwomen, just by nature of being, you know, French, have the most Céline in their closets?

“I wouldn’t say that is the case,” said Waller. “I have clients from all over the world with an incredible Old Céline closet. A special mention would have to go to a Hong Kong woman who I’ve found have some incredibly rare and beautiful pieces,” she noted. After an initial trip there in January, Waller realized that Philo’s influence had permeated that region, too, with many counting themselves die-hard devotees. Rebag’s Gorra also hinted at the importance of women in Asia when it comes to digging out the most rare Céline pieces. As the company plans to open a whopping 30 stores in the next few years, there’s “opportunity in sourcing international.”

For her part, Blanchet still thinks Europeans might have the best Old Céline in their closets. “I’ve found that a lot of frequent and most faithful buyers of Céline by Phoebe Philo come from Germany,” she explained. “Out of all the beautiful, inspiring, and chic women I’ve gotten the pleasure to meet over the years, some of those who have epitomized Céline by Phoebe Philo the most are German and Dutch.”

Though, if the Dutch are anything like Copenhagen street style star Pernille Teisbaek, there are most certainly some epic finds in their closets. Indeed, it was through a contact in Denmark where Waller found the iconic coat for Huntington-Whiteley.

But perhaps it’s not only Old Céline that we’re all after?

“You know what’s funny,” said Sofia Bernadin, Marshall’s partner at Resee. “Now, [Phoebe Philo’s] time at Chloé is also really making a big comeback. So we’ve gotten a lot of great pieces from when she designed at Chloé, and we’re putting together a story on that at Resee.”

Old Chloé is not the only resurrection ripple-effect caused by Philo’s exit from the fashion sphere. As fashion critics rally around Daniel Lee, a former director of ready-to-wear design under Philo at Céline, who is now at the helm of Bottega Veneta and who is ushering in a new code at the house, can one expect a resurrection of Old Bottega? The young designer is, after all, creating covetable accessories like his oversized Intrecciato bags. “Vintage Bottega bags are coming back into style,” said Skoda, who noted that there was already an uptick in both searches and sales—and therefore value—on The Real Real. Over at Rebag, those wishing to get ahead of the Intrecciato trend are already looking back to the O.G. versions as the next It bag to collect, especially the hobo.

But back to Céline. If there was one major takeaway from Hedi Slimane’s sophomore runway show earlier this week in Paris, it is that New Celine is really the old Céline. The Old Old Céline that is, the pre-Phoebe Philo, pre-Michael Kors Céline, when the label was just very nice clothes worn by the bourgeoisie of Paris. If there’s one truth in fashion, it’s that what goes around is sure to come back around again. I guess we’ll have to wait and see if everyone will be flocking to carry a vintage Céline American Sulky bag, or if they’ll be marching straight to their nearest Celine store, just like they used to, excited to snap up Slimane’s Celine, sans accent. I certainly will be.