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Soft touch: Catwalk's working mum returns with warmer classics


It was the turn of the Céline designer Phoebe Philo to take to the Paris catwalk yesterday after one season's absence.

She scaled back her presentation to the showroom six months ago because she was pregnant with her third child and therefore preferred to avoid excessive stress. Now, though, she is back on the runway schedule and all eyes are fixed on the woman who spearheaded an understated and perhaps more thoughtful approach to womenswear at the end of the first decade of the new millennium – a viewpoint that continues to resonate powerfully on catwalks other than her own and in the way women dress more generally to this day.

Philo chose to show in a relatively intimate manner in a typically grand, chandelier-bedecked Parisian town-house on Avenue Foch in the 16th arrondissement. This is one of the French fashion capital's most exclusive residential districts.

The Céline Spring/Summer 2013 collection, the designer said backstage, is about: "Friendship, beauty, support... Life." There was indeed a softness here in the form of blouses, dresses and trousers which appeared almost to hug their wearer: the effect of a boyfriend or husband's sweater worn tied around the shoulders or hips was cleverly built into garments although they never looked overwrought.

Equally gentle were layered ivory silk and white cotton shift dresses with delicate, frayed edges and oversized, unlined trench coats in pale gold.

For all her pragmatism, Philo is nothing if not a rule breaker, though she does this quietly too, never shouting any more radical credentials from the rooftops. And so narrow, raw silk, racer-backed evening dresses had panels of cotton fishnet inserted at the neckline (they looked almost like they'd been cut from a man's string vest), the crotch of trousers dropped so low they resembled Dhoti pants but never at the expense of their more classically androgynous status.

Masculine, flat leather sandals, meanwhile, were lined with red, yellow, white and candyfloss pink fur and fluffy, talon-heeled courts, went so far as to demonstrate that rare thing, a sense of humour: a cute touch.

Since her arrival at Céline in 2008, Philo has consistently argued that the frenetic and quintessentially ephemeral "in one season out the next" mentality that once characterised designer fashion is outmoded. The designer's collections evolve as opposed to changing track entirely on a seasonal basis.

She told The Independent last year: "What I love is this idea of a wardrobe, the idea that we're establishing certain signatures and updating them, that a change in colour or fabric is enough. I do think that the world doesn't need many more frivolous bits and bobs that end up left in cupboards or landfills."

With that in mind, the Céline "classic" and "cabas" bags, the Crombie coat, the perfectly simple white shirt, pair of black trousers and silk crepe tuxedo are now firmly established as part of the brand's vocabulary and are all present and correct this time around too. They make a discreetly luxurious and essentially timeless statement ensuring that discerning women of means who would rather not flaunt their wealth on their sleeve remain in safe hands. At the same time, Philo's latest offering was a hugely confident move forward and one that told a warmer story.