Very few designers, if any, have had the same chokehold on the fashion industry as Phoebe Philo. The old Céline creative director put minimalism back on the map, with her ‘less is more’ mentality. She set the tone and carried 2010s fashion, giving women worldwide a wardrobe that was timeless and favoured wearability and a restrained colour palette. Her impact is undeniable as a forward fashion thinker – she even became the first woman ever to leave her role as creative director in 2006 to take maternity leave. Now, with the announcement of her return to fashion under her own eponymous brand officially launching next September, the Philo craze has resparked itself. In honour of Philo’s success, we have retraced her steps, from her early days until now, exploring some of her most influential work to date.
Phoebe Philo was born in 1973 in Paris, a place she would later in life return to, before moving to London, where she spent the rest of her former years. Her father was a surveyor while her mother was an art dealer and graphic designer best known for her contributions to David Bowie’s Aladdin Sane album cover. Philo’s interest in fashion started from a young age, having been gifted a sewing machine for her 14th birthday. She got the hang of customising and creating garments, which later led her to study fashion at Central Saint Martins. At university she met Stella McCartney, the woman who would give her her first real stint, working as her first design assistant at Chloé in 1997 under McCartney’s creative direction.
THE CHLOÉ ERA
While rumours started circulating about an alleged feud between McCartney and Philo after the latter took over the former’s position as creative director at Chloé in 2001, even McCartney had to give it to Philo for her unparalleled designs. Her first collection explored effortless femininity with an inspiration on 70s British styles and was well received by critics. Her next collections to follow were equally well-regarded, as Philo rejuvenated the brand with sensual designs, showing off midriffs and incorporating high-rise leg slits and cut-outs at the hip. She opened up Chloé’s customer market to a younger demographic, with the implementation of babydoll dresses, leather goods and wooden wedge shoes that were prominent in defining the boho aesthetic.
Perhaps the most renowned pieces Philo ever created for Chloé were handbags, specifically the Paddington bag first shown in the Spring 2005 show. The leather bag was easily recognized with its distinct branded padlock clasp and became a staple in 00s fashion, with celebrities like Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie seen wearing it. Philo’s time at Chloé was a raging success, both in image rebranding and profitability, with reports showing an increase in sales by 60% worldwide in 2005. The following year, Philo stepped away from her position to focus on her family.
Before Philo, Céline was led by Michael Kors but the brand had suffered greatly with many changes in creative directions, none quite achieving the success wanted by Bernard Arnault. Here is where Phoebe Philo really shined. Two years after stepping away from Chloé, Philo was approached by LVMH to take over Céline – now CELINE but for the purpose of commemorating the old Céline we will refer to it with the accent. She accepted the role of creative director and board member, a position she would hold for 10 years, with the condition that she remain in London, only travelling to Paris for the seasonal shows.
Philo’s approach to Céline was one void of trends. Rather, she opted to create a timeless, minimalist wardrobe that merged practicality and luxury. Now being a mother, Philo’s design genius stems from the fact that she understood how the modern day woman wants to be dressed. Her first show for Céline in 2009 showcased a muted-tone colour palette and heavy leather accessories including the Olsen twins and Kim Kardashian approved Luggage tote bag, which to this day remains one of the house’s most successful and copied bags. Other designs which would go down in fashion history, being referenced by many designers, include the Trapeze it bag, boxy menswear-inspired coats, the SS11 pyjama shirt famously worn by Kanye West at Coachella in 2011, silky slip dresses part of her SS15 and SS16 shows which turned the item from just an underwear piece to an outerwear staple, and many others (there’s literally too many to recount).
While her runway shows were a raging success, with women worldwide fighting to get their hands on a Philo piece, another way in which the designer excelled at Céline was through her campaign ads. Women finally felt seen and understood through these campaigns. Some standouts include her very first campaign shot by Juergen Teller in 2010 and the 2015 Joan Didion campaign – to give credit where credit is due, the fact that Didion’s Céline sunglasses sold for $27,000 at an auction has to do, in part, with the fact that they are certified old Céline. Philo’s last contribution to Céline was her Pre-Fall 2018 campaign, before being replaced by Hedi Slimane.
Ms Philo was the front of 2010s fashion, leaning into the boho-chic movement as well as redefining what the modern woman looks like with her effortless and timeless designs. She has received critical acclaim from journalists and publications worldwide, as well as being decorated by various fashion establishments. She was awarded the International Designer of the Year title by the CFDA in 2011, and won the BFC’s Designer of the Year award twice, once in 2005 and again in 2010. But perhaps her greatest achievement was her large devoted following, the self proclaimed ‘Philophiles’.
Without even having her own brand or working in the industry at the time, the Philophile fandom scoured all over the Internet and various archive sales to get their hands on a Phoebe Philo design. This movement picked up speed after Philo’s retirement from her position at Céline, with admirers grieving the news and calling to bring back the ‘Old Céline’. The fan favourite @oldceline, an Instagram account dedicated to posting old Philo looks, has amassed just under 400,000 followers. Phoebe Philo has also gone on to inspire a new generation of designers, including Burberry’s Daniel Lee, Peter Do and Victoria Beckham’s former design director Ilaria Icardi, who all worked under her creative direction at Céline. It’s safe to say Philo’s retreat from the fashion world has not gone unnoticed.
THE COMEBACK OF PHOEBE PHILO
Just as we thought we wouldn’t hear from her again, Philo gave hope to the entire industry and Philophile fandom by announcing the launch of her own eponymous brand in July 2021, of which she would have complete creative control over and would be financed by LVMH. While the whole world rejoiced, the enthusiasm was met with more silence from the designer, who didn’t speak on the matter after her headline announcement. Just a few days ago, in an unexpected move from the designer who avoids Internet coverage at all costs and accepts little interviews (there’s only so much you can do though against the colossal power of Philophiles), Phoebe Philo took to Instagram to publish her one and only post announcing her inaugural collection will be revealed in September 2023 on her website. The post has now been deleted but the excitement of Philophiles (ourselves included) cannot be contained, considering she received just under 130,000 new followers in 24 hours.
More on CULTED
See: CULTED 101: ELEVATION AND ECCENTRICITY AT ACNE STUDIOS
See: DISSECTING ALESSANDRO MICHELE: SEVEN YEARS OF GUCCI GLORY