When Tom Ford parted company with the Gucci Group back in 2004, fashion pundits predicted the end of an era for the "superstar designer". Henceforth, it was argued, anonymous teams would be the order of the day, the types who did most of the work anyway – at least so the story went at the time.
Five years on and today Phoebe Philo's designs for Celine arrive in store – you can buy them in this country at Harvey Nichols, Selfridges and in Dover Street Market – and the anticipation surrounding this, her debut offering, surely suggests otherwise.
Ms Philo is, of course, the designer who is widely considered to be the brains behind the spectacular revitalisation of Chloé, the French label which she headed up for five years – from 2001 to 2006 – before resigning to spend more time with her family.
It was Philo who was responsible for introducing an ultra-feminine aesthetic to Chloé, fusing its French heritage with vintage-inspired clothing, all with a sassy, London edge. She also designed money-spinning accessories including the reassuringly chunky Paddington bag, equally clunky elevated wooden-heeled sandals and a fossilised butterfly pendant, all beloved by fashion-knowledgeable young women the world over.
Anyone expecting more of the same at Celine will be disappointed. It is a measure of Philo's considerable talent that far from resting on her laurels she has risen to this, a rather more challenging brief, as if she was born to do so. Ever since American designer Michael Kors' long tenure at Celine, that ended in 2004, the name has been synonymous with a rigorous and metropolitan aesthetic that was as meticulously conceived as it was executed. Understated luxury didn't cover it. Neither Roberto Menichetti nor Ivana Omazic (not wishing to be rude, but who?) succeeded in stepping into Kors' very dapper shoes. With Philo, however, the brand may just find itself in safe hands once more.
Moulded nappa leather skirts and cocoon-shaped jackets, double-face cashmere capes, satin sack dresses and masculine tailoring are all determinedly minimal, even utilitarian, in flavour. Colours – khaki, army green, grey, tan and flesh-coloured, powdery tones – only add to the no-frills feel of it all. This not only suits Celine down to the ground but is also perfectly suited to the wish to dress to impress without shouting about it that seems perfectly right for now.
The world's more anonymous designers might take solace in the fact that Philo herself originally went to Chloe as first assistant to Stella McCartney – a starry name if ever there was one and an appointment that attracted more than its fair share of controversy for just that reason. When McCartney left Chloé to set up her own label with the Gucci Group it was no great loss, her detractors said. Philo did most of the work anyway. What goes around comes around, then, it seems.