Fashion Heroes: Phoebe Philo


It is impossible to not know the name Phoebe Philo. She is the woman who re-invented the term "cool" and, during her tenure at Céline, made the brand so irresistible to women everywhere. Her minimalist aesthetic, clean lines and tonal colour palette have come to be regarded as the epitome of chic. 

Her story is quite well-known. She started at Chloé in 1997 after graduating from Central St Martins, assisting her friend Stella McCartney, and later took over as creative director when McCartney left to start her own label. For the next five years, Philo transformed the fashion house into one of the hottest names in Paris and invites to the shows during Paris fashion week were some of the most covetable invites. The brand was also a commercial success all around. 

And then, just as her rapid meteoric rise, came her sudden decision to leave it all behind and focus on her family. For the next few years, Philo was no longer in the spotlight. It was not until 2008, that it was announced that Philo was to be the creative director of Céline. 

It was a decision that was highly lauded and her first collection was hotly anticipated. One year after her appointment, reviewing her fall 2010 show, WWD wrote: “It’s astonishing what the right designer can do for a house. One year ago, Céline was as stale as week-old bread. Now, in the hands of Phoebe Philo, it’s the touchstone for modern sportswear.”

Philo is often hailed, as Tim Blanks put it, "a designer who knows what women want," which uniquely dovetails with her own personal style. You see, what I loved about Philo's tenure at Céline was that she had transformed a storied fashion brand, with no recognisable silhouette, into one that defines Parisian chic. 

Just take a look at its bags, for instance. Philo introduced the "winged" silhouette and suddenly, that look was seen almost everywhere and in the collections of other notable fashion houses. Practically every other advertisement for a luxury brand — from Lanvin to Valentino to Fendi — prominently features a somewhat boxy leather bag that widens towards the top to form a vaguely ‘winged’ shape. 

Another reason why Philo is a prolific designer was the fact that, to me, she really was the woman who made sneakers a high fashion commodity. I remember watching the Céline show in 2011 and at the end of her presentation, Philo stepped out to take her bow wearing a monochrome ensemble. She finished off her look with a pair of white sneakers - the adidas Stan Smiths. 

While Philo's androgynous designs are considered by many to be the benchmark for great taste, her feminist take on fashion also means that the sneakers played a very important role in her own personal style. It was to be the epitome of chic. One that has been replicated by not only fashion elites but also fashion editors and tastemakers alike. Because, you know, where Philo goes, legions of street style stars follow. 

Philo was also involved in the big Vans revival of 2012: Céline produced luxe slip-ons reminiscent of skater shoes, and similarly shaped trainers then became all the rage.

THAT QUINTESSENTIAL CELINE MINIMALIST LOOK PAIRED WITH THE LABEL'S SLIP ONS THAT WERE INSPIRED BY CLASSIC VANS SHOES. 

Get The Look

Gingham Knit Skates
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High Street Philo-fied

You know what they say, you've not really made it unless a high street giant copies your designs. And copied was Philo's design for Celine by the high street giants. Taking everything from silhouettes to the very same runway looks, brands like Zara have thrived by not only taking Céline's popular design aesthetic, but offering it to the masses at super affordable prices. 

American culture magazine, Complex, once did a comparison between Zara and Celine to show striking similarities between the two. But while imitation, as many would say, is the best form of flattery, neither THE FIFTH COLLECTION nor I condone such acts, of course. 

I suppose, though I really hate to use it, the best response came from Kanye West. In his interview with the BBC, West famously said: "You can have on a Zara pants, right? And a girl walks in with the Céline version, and you feel like sh*t". Touché, but true.

Céline VS Zara

The Céline Look

Minimal and sleek, with the perfect balance of masculine and feminine vibes. Looking at a Céline runway show, you can see that the point of the designs is to show that a woman should be comfortable while still remaining fashionable. With Philo's designs, this was often achievable. The designer herself condemns the "sexualization" of women through clothes, insisting upon the very basic idea that, "women should have choices and women should feel good in what they wear." 

The rumour mill

Recently, there have been rumours flying that Philo will be leaving the fashion house after presenting her spring/summer 2017 collection in Paris this October. But those talks were quickly killed by an internal memo from the company saying that she will continue to be the creative director and designer of Céline. 

But, as with everything in fashion, one can never really be sure of such notes. Afterall, there would be no fire without wind. 

So, we shall see in the coming months if indeed Philo will be leaving the fashion house that she not only resuscitated but also made relevant. Till then, it is safe to say that Phoebe Philo is a fashion force to be reckoned with and a true Fashion Hero who has changed the face of fashion.