Philo shows Paris that the best designs come in small packages
Nothing short of perfect, says Susannah Frankel in Paris of the latest, understated collection from the creative director of Céline
There are very few designers who have the talent or tenacity to alter our perception of what fashion should – and indeed should not – be.
Phoebe Philo, creative director of Céline, is one such.
When she arrived at this French label in the autumn of 2008 and, one year later, showed her first runway collection, the clean, no-frills aesthetic that she upheld was the most influential of the season. Its understated power continues to resonate three years on, and under Philo's tenure, Céline has become the desirable name for the fashion insider – and women of style more broadly – to be seen wearing.
Yesterday in Paris, she swam against the tide once more, choosing to eschew the traditional all-singing, all-dancing catwalk show complete with audience of more than 1,000 in favour of a small – in fact, tiny – presentation in her company showroom. No more than around 30 people were invited worldwide.
Philo herself was there to greet guests personally. Stella Tennant, the face of Céline's advertising campaigns, sat alongside the handful of guests.
As for the clothes: they were nothing short of perfect. Oversized coats in tufted wools and felted cashmeres, equally roomy trousers with a dropped crotch and a moulded, subtly curved silhouette, sweaters that – similarly – stood away from the body, were all intent on cocooning the woman wearing them as opposed to parading her shape and size for all to see.
Philo prefers to provide press with a collection of images that have inspired and informed her clothes each season than to talk to journalists immediately after they are shown. This time around it was brutalist 1960s architecture, miniature erotica and palm trees against a summer sky all featured.
There was, with that in mind, a modernist feel to coats patch-worked in a style reminiscent of Piet Mondrian and to pointed-toed shoes with sculptural block heels. Colour, too, spoke of optimism and a bright future: cornflower blue, true red and magenta all punctuated a palette that was otherwise primarily black, navy and optic white.
In January, Céline announced that Philo would be showing in this way: the reason behind the move was purely pragmatic. The designer is heavily pregnant with her third child and staging a traditional runway show would be overly stressful.
It is an unusually straightforward mindset and a humane one at that, particularly coming from a high-profile label and in an industry that is generally anything but. Céline is owned by LVMH, the world's largest luxury goods conglomerate, and it says something of Philo's value to that company that they continue to accommodate her wish to work in an unconventional way. "Can all shows be like this please," said Anna Wintour, editor of American Vogue, as she took her seat.
And so Philo has proved once again there is no need to run with the pack.
There was, in the end, a modesty and restraint on display here that seemed only apposite given the economic climate.
Just as the Céline customer may not want to wear her wealth on her sleeve, Philo has no need to flex her muscle in the bombastic manner typical of at least some of international fashion's most visible brands. Instead, hers is a quiet revolution and it is all the more brilliant for that.
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