Uptight but sweet: influential Philo gives Céline a softer side

 

Paris

However much she might wish to avoid the spotlight, the pressure was on Phoebe Philo, the creative director of Céline, who showed her fifth collection for that label in Paris yesterday.

This is the stealth-wealth tag to see and be seen in, loved equally by women with money to spend on their clothes, but who would rather not wear their privilege on their sleeve, and by the fashion insider.

It is Philo, people say, who is single-handedly responsible for the rebirth of minimalism – her no frills debut collection for Céline, shown in October 2009, was massively influential. There is much more to her than that, though, and, for 2012, she demonstrated her talent more fully.

The strict, covered-up aesthetic that Philo has made her own at Céline was softened by veils of black chiffon at the front of crisp white trousers or a panelled white dress. Shirts were buttoned up to the point of uptight, but romantic, sunray pleats sweetened them from behind. There were shades of Yves Saint Laurent's safari collection to coat dresses in white, racing green and merlot, cinched with wide belts in a nod to Parisian chic. A nod to that great couturier's iconic Le Smoking was here seen in a black, crepe trouser suit, the wide-legged, cropped trousers of which had a broad panel of more chiffon at the hem.

If the holy grail of fashion is to move cut and proportion forward, transforming the appearance of the body inside it, then this was a brilliantly discreet example of just that. Pleated knee-length skirts or ankle-length trousers that kicked slightly from the knee were belted low on the hip and worn with narrow-shouldered jackets which were, conversely, high-waisted – almost empire line. This all-new silhouette will make fashion ripples for seasons to come.

Céline was in the doldrums when Philo arrived to catapult this very different brand to must-have status, despite the fact that the clothing she was proposing was a million miles away from the trend-driven whimsy seen elsewhere. In a rare interview, Philo told The Independent: "What I love is this idea of a wardrobe, the idea that we're establishing certain signatures and updating them... the world doesn't need many more frivolous bits and bobs that end up left in cupboards."

With this in mind, she already has two classic Céline bags to her name – the "luggage" and the "cabas". The sleeveless tunic, the white shirt and a fine pair of trousers is reinvented each season. Finding the balance between moving fashion forward and creating sophisticated clothing that stands the test of time is no mean feat and Philo, increasingly, is proving to be a master of that.

Christophe Lemaire unveiled his second collection for Hermès. This time austerity and refinement were the story. Next summer, the Hermès woman will travel in ivory, linen kaftans and jackets. Should she be feeling sunny she might slip into a silk tunic in a bright riff on Hermès orange. She will wear her finest caramel leather coat over her shoulders over a liquid silk skirt and shirt. The question is whether anyone will invest in these clothes. And the answer is a resounding yes. Hermès' fortunes continue to flourish.

One can only sympathise with Bill Gaytten, who took his bows for the second time this season following the showing of the John Galliano signature line. Gaytten has formally taken over the designer's eponymous collection, while at Christian Dior – which took place last Friday – he is overseeing the studio temporarily while a successor is found.

If the Dior collection made a certain amount of sense, John Galliano, into which the disgraced couturier poured so much care, looked quite sad. The spirit and unbridled romance that was at the heart of the label was notable for its absence.

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