Discreet luxury and courage on show in Paris
Celine continues its rebirth under Phoebe Philo as the status label to watch
If no-frills clothes that are discreetly – but to those in the know extremely – luxurious are a large part of the story this season, then Phoebe Philo's hugely influential debut collection for Celine, shown in Paris six months ago, has by now proved ahead of its time.
Her second collection for that label, which was yesterday's first big show, will no doubt be equally well-received. This was a perfect display of looks that most women, whatever their age, would love to wear, provided that their budgets will stretch to it.
Navy wool coats and jackets had chic funnel collars, leather pockets and just the odd highly polished fastening – this was still a basically minimal view. Trousers, worn high on the waist, cropped at the ankle and with a dead straight leg, were immaculately cut. Skirt suits came tailored close to the body, but never overly so, in Lurex tweed – for just that touch of sparkle. New this season was ivory lace, again gracing a silhouette that fell cleverly between the demure and the dignified. Footwear – ultra-high suede loafers or soft leather riding boots with a fashionable mid heel in gold – will no doubt fly off the shelves.
Since Philo started her career as Stella McCartney's right-hand woman at Chloe in the late 1990s, she has been widely perceived as a woman who can do no wrong. The designer, who took over from McCartney when she left Chloe to start up her own label in partnership with the Gucci Group in 2001, went on to give the world money-spinning accessories, including the Paddington bag. More generally, the sweetly feminine aesthetic with a cool, London-girl edge that Chloe came to represent was coveted – and widely copied – the world over. Now – and following a five-year break to spend time with her family – Philo is once again working her magic at Celine. While this latest offering didn't have quite the youthful freshness of the one that came before it, it reinforced the fact that Celine is establishing itself as the revitalised status label to watch.
There was nothing much easy on the eye about the Comme des Garçons collection shown the previous evening. This powerful vision was as challenging and uncompromising as might be expected of fashion's most consistently innovative and inspirational name. The label's founder and designer, Rei Kawakubo, said she was thinking about "inside decoration": where other designers might use jewellery for the surface of their collection, this was about externalising what you do to protect yourself inside.
And what clothes these were. The most arresting and unconventional silhouette was achieved by stuffing garments with anatomically shaped padding, edged with a small frill which, flying in the face of fashion's obsession with a slender and flattering line, made even the world's slightest models appear positively hefty and strong, interestingly enough – by comparison.
All the Comme des Garçons signature fabrics were in place – pin-striped wool, polyester, tartan and more. Kawakubo's ability to breathe new life into these season after season is remarkable. In the end, however, the brilliance of this particular fashion statement lay in the fact that it went to prove that the confrontational may indeed be beautiful – and even romantic. Put very simply: it takes a courageous spirit to flag up fat as fashionable, but Kawakubo did just that.
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