Designer and director Philéo Landowski has had an impressive career all before the age of 20. From creating his first brand aged 13, to being introduced to CDG’s director and landing his sneaker label in Dover Street Market Paris, Philéo’s business and creative acumen has developed into being at the helm of multiple brands and creative endeavours.
Coupled with a background interning under multiple different creative directors at Celine, Philéo has worked his life experience and ability to find inspiration in the everyday to his sneaker label, which is gearing up to release a new collection in January 2022.
We caught up with him to discuss his career so far, the best spots in Paris, and to explore his three best tips for pioneering a successful brand.
Can you talk me through your background in creating brands?
So I started my first company like 6 years ago with a friend of mine. At the time we were doing spare scooter parts for freestyle scooters in the skate park. I was 13 or 14 at the time, and we lasted 3 years.
I stopped with the scooter company because I hurt myself pretty bad, and I wasn’t able to do it anymore. As I wasn’t part of it anymore it didn’t seem adequate to continue with that company. As much as the injury halted my plans, it also gave me this moment to stop and think about what I could do next. Even though I was young, it was transformative to think about what could be next.
13 or 14! That’s insane, so how did it then transition into sneakers? Were you always into them?
I always spent all my money on sneakers – sneakers and shoes. I decided I wanted to design shoes, so I tried to create my own and approached a company to try and have an internship there.
Then I decided I wanted to do my own stuff. I started to contact factories whilst designing, then took a lot of time to create a first collection and some first samples around 2 years ago in September 2019. At this time I met Katerina Jebb in Paris – she was a huge part of it, and I love her work as an artist. She told me that she would love me to meet her friend AJ who turned out to be Adrienne Joffe (CDG’s international director) – I made the mistake of googling him and consequently freaking out for the next few weeks until our meeting. It actually went perfectly well and he invited me to launch at Dover Street Market in Paris. Now, we’re working on FW22 to launch in January!
You’ve done a lot in a short time. I read that you interned at Celine – what was this like?
Yes, and hopefully I can keep it up! It’s all been done so quickly that there’s a basis that we haven’t even covered in terms of brand creation and identity, so we’re almost doing it in reverse.
The internship I mentioned was actually at Celine, so I brought them my CV and they took me for a week-long internship in the atelier! It was actually in the last couple of weeks of Phoebe (Philo), really the end of the Phoebe era at Celine. I came back for a production internship a few months later as part of a deal with my school – I wasn’t a great student and they wanted me out of their hair.
After Phoebe, it was Daniel Lee at first, then Slimane arrived during this period. It was really interesting to see basically three different brands in this really short period. Interesting and disturbing at the same time actually, to see how everyone changed – I had three different experiences in one!
Phoebe was of course my favourite – this is the Celine I met and fell in love with. I love her work and it’s the aesthetic I love the most.
The scope for gaining inspiration for designs is getting wider and wider. Do you look to a certain place, person or thing for inspiration?
It’s a real mix of things – it can be places, or even a functional thing. I feel very inspired by the function of a shoe. I like that shoes are essential: everyone has to wear shoes at the end of the day.
Mainly though, I start with places. Next season we have a sort of army boot range for hiking. I went hiking on volcanoes and really got inspiration from that trip – I wanted to make shoes that were inspired by the volcano aesthetic, but also able to deal with the practical elements of hiking. I want to design shoes that can be worn in a nightclub, hiking or in a house – a shoe that does it all.
People really inspire me too – I am focussed on the narrative of a place or person. A design has to speak for itself, but you have to understand the story behind it too. For each shoe design, we have 2 versions: one minimalist, sneaker version that is all about being fashionable and being comfortable. The other is about reworking the classics of the footwear closet.
I’m not someone that takes a lot of time to design – I can design like 20 shoes in an hour. I don’t want to spend too much time on initial ideas and drawings, or bother with making beautiful mock-ups when they probably won’t make it past the brainstorming stage. I just try to have the shoe’s identity, a way to explain the shoe’s identity, and at the end just choose the best concepts to go to production.
That’s a super streamlined creative process. From that, what’s the favourite design that you’ve come up with, and which is your favourite design to wear?
My favourite design is coming next season, which I can’t reveal yet, but I think my favourite from my existing range is the Essential 001. It’s so easy to wear, so comfortable and is a shoe that is a real shoe if that makes sense. You can see that it’s handmade, and the maker’s are passionate about it.
I love the idea of having a shoe that does it all – one that you can wear with anything, and is just cool.
You’ve mentioned Phoebe Philo as one of your favourite designers. Do you have any others, and what attracts you to their work?
Yeah – Rei Kawakubo. But with her I love her mindset and creative process, more so than the actual designs. She creates a constellation, an incredible ecosystem that is just really on point. Her and the whole CDG entity don’t mess around, which is something I really admire.
I also really like Alvar Alto and the brand identity he has. The functional things, the brutalism – it’s all great. Not all my favourites are from fashion, I’m inspired by design in all its forms in general.
What would you say are the 3 most important tips for creating a brand?
Being surrounded by good people, who want good for you. That’s at the core of everything you do – with them, you can only do good. They’ll tell you when to do better, and also will humble you! I think also staying true to yourself and your brand ID.
Thirdly, I think the best way to start a company is from a need. Like my first one, I couldn’t find the scooter parts I wanted, so I had to create my own. That’s also where I still am though, I’m making cool sneakers with good materials and trying to produce sustainably which I couldn’t find before I started designing myself. You have to enjoy it, too!
You touched on being sustainable there – is this an important concern for you when designing?
Yes for sure – it’s almost the basis of my creative process. For everything I design, I want to create something that can be made in the most sustainable way possible. As a small brand, we don’t have the tools or money that big brands such as Nike do, but with the techniques that we have we try to do the best that we can. It’s a core concern for the brand for sure.
Nice! Now for a little quickfire – where are the 3 best spots in Paris?
I actually don’t go out a lot haha. But if you were to stay for a day and night, you’d have to go to: ROR SHAR – this is a Berlin-style party. It’s a place of freedom – no photos, no lineup, but super free and you can do whatever you want. We’re missing that in Paris, a rebellious party.
3537 – a creative space with a great selection of things to do. The curation is unique and there’s nothing like it in Paris.
What’s next for Philéo?
Well we’re working on our next season, which I can’t give you any spoilers on, but should be released in January! We’ve got some great collaborations coming up, and I guess we’re just trying to keep up the same momentum.