The oversized trend remains an enigma to me. On certain body types, it exudes effortless cool and chic. On yours truly, however, it has the seduction of a minivan. Does that generally stop me from populating my Pinterest mood boards with voluminous OOTDs? Not really.
It’s worth noting that an overwhelming majority of said outfits are composed of pieces from what’s popularly known as Old Céline. And now that its design genius, Phoebe Philo, is slated to return to the fashion scene after a five-year hiatus, the jubilation of fans (who go by the name of Philophiles) isn’t far from (if not more than) that of Rihanna-stans after her recent comeback!
In fact, there’s something to be said about the celebrification of creative directors in luxury fashion. It isn’t a new phenomenon – the tales of Hubert de Givenchy, Yves Saint Laurent, and Gianni Versace remain legendary. But since the likes of Karl Lagerfeld and Tom Ford, designers’ celebrity status has continued to flourish in recent years, with few names transcending that of the fashion house itself! And arguably, the most pioneering of them all is Ms. Philo.
From Céline to Celine
Céline Vipiana’s namesake brand, since its inception in 1945, had remained profitable but largely under the radar. That is until Mr. Bernard Arnault of LVMH set his sights on it. In 1997, his conglomerate appointed Michael Kors as creative lead, and a new era unfolded for the brand, marked by luxurious, sporty ready-to-wear and the commercial successes of the Clandestine and Boogie bags. But progress was stunted following Kors’ abrupt departure in 2004, and Céline slid into obscurity again.
Meanwhile, British designer Phoebe Philo was steadily gaining quite a reputation. Formerly a design assistant at Chloé to then-creative director Stella McCartney, Philo quickly succeeded McCartney as the lead designer in 2001. And until her exit in 2006, she continually churned out massive hits like the Paddington and the Silverado bags and their many, many iterations.
It was finally in 2008 that the two united – Philo’s signature brand of nonconformist chic with the tastefulness of Céline – leading to one of the most memorable brand-designer marriages of the contemporary age. Amanda describes, “Philo’s prowess took Céline from a nearly moribund afterthought to a perennial industry frontrunner almost overnight.” And this was apparent from her debut collection at the Spring/Summer Paris Fashion Week of 2010, gaining rave reviews and providing an outlet to splurge on for an entire generation of fashion lovers.
But with a fan following as formidable, the disappointment was just as crushing when nearly a decade later, Philo finally (seemingly) retired, with Hedi Slimane of Saint Laurent-fame named as her successor. The fact that, like his controversial logo stunt at YSL, Slimane almost immediately removed the accent in “Celine” drew an even bigger backlash from the brand’s former fans, who now swore allegiance to Philo’s aesthetic, and thus, prompted the #OldCéline movement.
What was Philo’s Aesthetic?
The early years of Old Céline weren’t a great time for fashion. Obvious branding was on the wane, which meant that the MK-era Triomphe monogram (recently revived by Slimane) had to go. Philo, however, knew exactly where she wanted to go with the luxury house.
On the one hand, there was the ready-to-wear. Designed to be tactile, comfortable, and insanely chic, they telegraphed a je ne sais quoi that brands everywhere, from the high-end to the high street, continue to imitate to date. Wise and mature, yet playful and seductive, Philo took cues from off-duty models, menswear, and even architecture to develop minimally, if slightly unexpected, ensembles.
But it was the handbags that exhibited the full breadth of her genius. Firstly, there were her it-bags – the Luggage Totes, Box Bags, and Trapezes- flying off the shelves regardless of the myriad colorways and textures her accessories staff were manufacturing them in, providing a shortcut to profitability and fame.
And then, there were her more discreetly exuberant handbags (to be fair, though, all her pieces were discreet, she’d probably shudder at the new Celine purses). The Seau Sangle, the Cabas, the Clasp, the Trio, and (my personal favorite) the Trifold Tote; with expensive, leather-lined interiors and satin-smooth exteriors, they transformed even the most basic tanks and tights into a full-on outfit! Even her protégé, Daniel Lee, drew inspiration for the wildly successful BV Pouch from her SS16 Cartable Pillow Bag!
Many found the pieces to reflect Philo’s personal style – secretive, uncomplicated, and obsessed with looking on point. Here was a designer purveying items she would wear herself. She even featured model Daria Werbowy – essentially her doppelganger – in many of her campaigns, as if to prove the point! It’s this promise of good taste that Philophiles blindly trust.
Where are the Philophiles Now?
But Philo’s departure left a vacuum in the market for the Philophiles. Especially after Slimane’s dramatic changes at “New Celine,” pre-loved Old Céline prices skyrocketed, facilitating the rise of dedicated Instagram pages, such as @oldceline and @oldcelinemarket. At the end of the day, however, there are only so many of Philo’s archival, Joan Didion-esque pieces to go by on resale, less so as even fewer would now part ways with them.
Consequently, a slew of other brands raced to capitalize on the opportunity. From established names like The Row, Gabriela Hearst, and Bottega Veneta, to more indie labels like Khaite, Métier London, and Totême, each carved their respective niches among the previously close-knit community of Philophiles, striving to provide the same sense of rarefied luxury, of gorgeous cashmere and buttery leather, that Old Céline originally did.
But now, it appears that all this is about to change. With a singular statement on Philo’s newly-launched, LVMH-backed eponymous label’s Instagram, “the inaugural collection will be revealed and available on our website, phoebephilo.com, in September 2023,” enthusiasts have begun enthusing over the triumphant return of the sartorial prodigy.
Jessica Testa of the NYT muses, “Is this the season that she’ll finally come back? That she’ll bring her vision of smart, grown-up, not overly feminine femininity to scatter like bread crumbs on a city sidewalk for the famished pigeons of fashion?” On the other hand, Stylist Karla Welch harbors no doubt about the success of the new label, confiding to Paper Magazine: “For Phoebe fans, I think in one moment, no other brand mattered. That’s her power. We already know we want it all.”
Eventually, though, only time will tell if Philo’s label can overcome the market-supremacy competitors have achieved in her absence. After all, the logistics of launching and operating an entirely new brand, even one backed by a major fashion powerhouse, is daunting. Until then, we purse-lovers shall wait with bated breath to see what surprises she has in store. As Amanda aptly says, “Wherever she goes, great bags follow.”