A model presents a creation by British designer Phoebe Philo from her Spring/Summer 2014 women's ready-to-wear collection for fashion house Céline during Paris Fashion Week / Reuters


What do women want? It’s a question that has plagued generations of men. The easiest way to find out is, of course, is to ask a woman.

That's why what Phoebe Philo does is so clever. She's a designing diving rod, a female fashion phenomenon, knowing what women will want just before they do. 

Of course, Philo's remit is limited to the clothes and accessories she creates at the house of Céline. And there's the quite natural argument that having that logoed slip if fabric stitched into the neck holds a talismanic must-have power in itself. Maybe. But Céline was off the radar before Philo's resuscitation. Four years later, it's still setting the pace.

For spring 2014, that pace is sporty. That's a mood we've seen in other catwalks. It's part of that cringe-inducing but much-loved fashion phrase, the zeitgeist. Philo is good at not only nailing it, but giving it a spin that seems definitive. Her spring sports were more undone than most designers, elongated t-shirts with hefty, boxy sleeves pulled low to the thigh over full pleated skirts. The inspiration booklets Philo placed on every seat - more enigmatic than explanatory - were rammed with Brassaï  photographs of graffiti. They found a counterpart in paint-daub jacquards, and the general mood of the artfully artless. 

Arte povera is a highbrow reference. Favela dressing could be another, clothes mashed together, loose with fitted, patterns clashing. No two pairs of shoes were alike, their angular metal heels reflected in brightly enamelled jewellery and eyelets studding coats or looping bags as handles. Others came in latticework leather.

Bags are of course big business chez Céline, the house that launched a thousand knock-offs. It's also known for its fair share of ripping off. There were shades of the eighties clubwear of Bodymap and Rifat Ozbek here, a bit of deconstruction reminiscent the designer Xuly Bët. The referencing didn't matter. Part of Philo's inestimable skill is realising what looks right for today even when it originates in the past. This season was about turning trash into treasure. Philo struck gold. Again.