GASP

Phoebe Philo Steps Down from Céline with No Plans to Join Another Label

Fashion drew a collective gasp on Friday.


Even if the rumors had been circulating for months, Phoebe Philo‘s departure from Céline will still resonate like shock to fashionistas across the globe. In nearly ten years at the French label, Philo has established herself as one of the most influential designers of this generation and a champion of women who wanted to dress decidedly of the moment while staying above the currents of trends and marketing. WWD, which broke the news on Friday, reports that Philo has no plans to jump ship to another label at the moment, and may instead take time for to concentrate on her family. The London-based designer has three children between the ages of five and twelve; she had previously taken time away from the business when she departed Chloé over a decade ago.

Rumors of Philo’s departure form Céline had been whispered about since at least 2015, but heightened in October with reports that the decision had been made and that the label’s parent company, LVMH, had already begun the process of interviewing potential successors (though, no decision has been made on the front, and after Philo’s final show early next year, in March, the house’s design team will handle things in the interim). Some speculation had emerged that Philo may succeed Christopher Bailey at Burberry (after all, her former Céline chief executive Marco Gobetti had recently taken the same post at the quintessential British brand), but it seems that was just merely that. Though perhaps that’s not a surprise. Philo’s exit from the house echoes her departure from Chloé in 2006, after which she took two years off before taking the reigns at Céline. Similarly, she’ll leave the label both at the height of sales and the height of critical acclaim.

Céline Trades In It Bags for Enormous Blankets and Printed Trench Coats

Backstage at Céline Fall 2017 during Paris Fashion Week, photographed by Landon Nordeman.

Photo by Landon Nordeman

Backstage at Céline Fall 2017 during Paris Fashion Week, photographed by Landon Nordeman.

Photo by Landon Nordeman

Backstage at Céline Fall 2017 during Paris Fashion Week, photographed by Landon Nordeman.

Photo by Landon Nordeman

Backstage at Céline Fall 2017 during Paris Fashion Week, photographed by Landon Nordeman.

Photo by Landon Nordeman

Backstage at Céline Fall 2017 during Paris Fashion Week, photographed by Landon Nordeman.

Photo by Landon Nordeman

Backstage at Céline Fall 2017 during Paris Fashion Week, photographed by Landon Nordeman.

Photo by Landon Nordeman

Backstage at Céline Fall 2017 during Paris Fashion Week, photographed by Landon Nordeman.

Photo by Landon Nordeman

Backstage at Céline Fall 2017 during Paris Fashion Week, photographed by Landon Nordeman.

Photo by Landon Nordeman

Backstage at Céline Fall 2017 during Paris Fashion Week, photographed by Landon Nordeman.

Photo by Landon Nordeman

Backstage at Céline Fall 2017 during Paris Fashion Week, photographed by Landon Nordeman.

Photo by Landon Nordeman

Backstage at Céline Fall 2017 during Paris Fashion Week, photographed by Landon Nordeman.

Photo by Landon Nordeman

Backstage at Céline Fall 2017 during Paris Fashion Week, photographed by Landon Nordeman.

Photo by Landon Nordeman

Backstage at Céline Fall 2017 during Paris Fashion Week, photographed by Landon Nordeman.

Photo by Landon Nordeman

Backstage at Céline Fall 2017 during Paris Fashion Week, photographed by Landon Nordeman.

Photo by Landon Nordeman

Backstage at Céline Fall 2017 during Paris Fashion Week, photographed by Landon Nordeman.

Photo by Landon Nordeman
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Philo first came to fashion prominence while working as the design assistant to her former Central Saint Martins classmate Stella McCartney at Chloé. After McCartney left to start her own label in 2001, Philo quietly took over the house herself and, in a few short years, established herself as a necessary and singular voice in fashion.

Philo’s work seems to thread a thin needle quite unlike anyone else. Her clothes can both be described as androgynous and yet decidedly feminine. They feel both current and yet transcendent so that one can imagine wearing her pieces again in ten years time. It’s no wonder Joan Didion functioned as such a now iconic avatar for the brand in a Juergen Teller-lensed ad campaign in 2015. With Philo, the clothes never threatened to overtake the wearer. The Céline woman, as she imagined her, has far too much of a sense of self and purpose for that. Indeed, the aesthetic even translates into her shoes.

“I find that very attractive,” Philo once told W about her preference for “tom boyish” shoes. “They’ve got their feet on the ground. I can sometimes find the image of a woman in an extreme high heel exciting, but I also love practicality. I can relate to being completely in control of what you need to get done.”

One for the Ages

“There’s always a sense of street culture in my work,” Philo says of the model in an oversize masculine leather coat and drainpipe pants, and the girl with a mullet who might have been plucked from a Suzi Quatro concert circa 1974. “Most street trends are British, and I’m very, very proud to be British. I like the sense of belonging here.” British tribalism—in particular, that of the streets of West London, where she grew up—has always influenced Philo. As she says, “Finding a uniform, a place to fit in, a clan you identify with—you wear the same clothes, you listen to the same music, go to the same clubs. It’s that period of leaving home and finding your own family.” Philo has been able to transfer that sense of exclusive inclusiveness to Céline.

Céline’s leather coat, wool and leather pants, and shoes from fall 2011.

Photographer: Willy Vanderperre Stylist: Jane How

Street culture is also infected with the germ of rebellion, which is why the women in Philo’s visual lexicon are so often tough, tomboyish, and anchored to the earth by no-nonsense footwear. “I find that very attractive,” she says. “They’ve got their feet on the ground. I can sometimes find the image of a woman in an extreme high heel exciting, but I also love practicality. I can relate to being completely in control of what you need to get done.” Is that a British trait? “I’m not sure it is anymore, but I think we’re quite a practical bunch. I like when you see the Queen or Princess Anne in the same outfit 15 years later. There’s a fine line between feeling new and contemporary, and at the same time creating something I hope I’ll still be wearing in 10 years.”

Céline’s cotton poplin and chambray denim shirt from prefall 2011 and wool and leather pants from fall 2011.

Photographer: Willy Vanderperre Stylist: Jane How

In that light, the androgynous essence of Céline is intriguing—and crucial to Philo’s aesthetic. She was excited by the idea of putting boots that remind her of a Prussian officer next to a Céline piece that has the lean, tailored lines of the coat one might imagine that officer wearing. “I like androgyny in my clothes, in the faces of the models wearing those clothes, and even in their body language,” she says forcefully. “I also find men’s wear and the fact that men usually have a set uniform very inspiring—there’s something liberating in not having too many choices. Maybe that’s something women are responding to in my work.” Philo clearly practices what she preaches. For our interview, she wore a masculine white shirt, straight pants, Adidas’s Stan Smiths, and a gray sweater tied scarflike around her neck.

Céline’s wool and leather coat and cotton turtleneck from fall 2011 and silk pants from resort 2012.

Photographer: Willy Vanderperre Stylist: Jane How

Being direct in the way she dresses, Philo says, even shapes her standards of beauty. The models she chose here, for instance, are determined in their engagement with the camera. She talks about her own determination “to do the thing that’s right for me, for Céline, and for women.” As passionate as those words sound, they’re delivered in a quiet, measured tone that hints at the inner steel that has allowed Philo to achieve so much at the relatively young age of 37. There is, however, one last point to mull over. When asked with what image she would pair the serious, slightly forbidding portrait of herself that opens this story, Philo selects a surreal photo of pink flamingos in the snow. They’re clearly hardy birds, but there is also something quintessentially fragile about them. Philo, it would seem, keeps her secrets after all.

From left: Céline’s wool dress with leather panels from fall 2011. Céline’s cashmere and polyester sweater from fall 2011 and cotton poplin shirt from prefall 2011.

Photographer: Willy Vanderperre Stylist: Jane How
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