The House that Phoebe Built

Phoebe Philo’s departure from LVMH owned Céline was bound to happen – ultimately, there was no way around it. The occasional breadcrumbs Mrs Philo’s would feed the press simply backed the suspicion that her tenor at the acclaimed house was approaching an end. Thus when the news of her departure broke out sometime in mid-December last year, it didn’t come as a surprise. And yet, one felt one was caught off guard, perhaps since the acclaimed designer kept delivering season after season we almost felt cheated for another batch or two with the garments having Philo’s signature. And with every new collection that she signed we all sighed in relief – still equally unequipped to face the gap such exodus would leave in our wardrobes as we were emotionally unprepared to deal with the metaphor of what Mrs Philo’s departure meant for the industry.

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Céline was a brand that meant a lot to many.

When Phoebe Philo joined the lacklustre house owned by LVMH in 2008, there was very little pressure on the creative helm. The brand didn’t create much revenue nor was it critically acclaimed and without the spotlight rising the heat Mrs Philo was given an opportunity to express and develop her own unique sensibility, building slowly but steadily a strong foundation for Maison to exist upon. And her manifesto was clear from the beginning: these were the clothes that catered to the working women. In many ways they were a sartorial equal to high-performance sportswear: impeccably tailored yet never restricting, ungilded yet remarkable – these garments were perfectly attuned to the demands of the modern life.  Despite the streamlined silhouette, the subdued palette and comfort they provided Philo’s clothes were never monotone – lace insert there or an awkward seem here made sure of that.

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A NEW WOMAN SURFACED – ONE THAT NEEDED HER WARDROBE TO REFLECT THE TIDES AND PERHAPS NEW FOUND CONFIDENCE 
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A rumour has it that Mrs Philo once uttered ‘’ I have faith that women wearing Céline are so confident in themselves that they can wear an ugly shoe’’. And that was true in so many ways – women that wore Céline understood the value of the intricate, of the hidden, of the clever and of the pun intended.
Philo’s designs were notoriously known for such clever details that contributed to the sense of adventure, thus imparting the wearer with curious allure and sense of intent and purpose. The clothes were so wrong in so many ways but oh, so, so right.
Thinking back in time one might argue that the clothes made by Mrs Philo– if not on deliberately, then fortuitously were centred around female gaze.
In many ways, the nonchalant approach to dressing was a firm step away from the gilded dressing that equalised the women’s position to the one of an ornament- and with that step, the house of Céline took a powerful statement.

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And that is where this whole affair hits the sore spot.
The weight of the Philo’s legacy lies in a subtle way Céline as a brand has contributed to shaping the cultural landscape over the past decade. Outside of the fashion industry, significant changes were on the horizon- their trajectory evolving parallel to that of Céline- and since Phoebe Philo took over – the brand simply mirrored that. Alongside the strong global cultural rejection of the binary gender codes came renunciation of the male gaze, and with it, a new woman surfaced – one that needed her wardrobe to reflect the tides and new found confidence. Feminism was on the rise and fight for equality has just started to create an overdue turmoil in the western world. Phoebe sensed that, alas she was at the forefront of that, providing the uniform for the fighting ranks.

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IT SEEMS THAT THE FEMINISM WAS DISGUISED AS A WHITE STAN SMITH
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And by doing so she paved  the way for armies of women to indulge in unflinching comfort in and out of the office, thus consequently championing equality and women’s rights all in one.

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On the other hand what made Céline so utterly irresistible as a brand was the uncompromising defiance to commit to the social media. Another clear message resurfaced -Céline as a brand didn’t want to partake in the infinite twaddle – it was above that.
That didn’t necessarily mean that the Céline as a brand didn’t part take in the debate it just didn’t contribute to the noise but rather led a conversation- a silent yet powerful one. The one that heralded for self-care, self-love, championed privacy as an ultimate luxury and not only catered to an alternative gaze, but by introducing conceptually ‘ugly’ items turned the vantage point inwards – as by purchasing into non-conformist esthetics one was bound to pose the question ‘Who do you dress for?’.

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The transition of È to E marked an end to an era – and not only of the Philo’s tenor at the ‘Maison’ , but perhaps to a vivacious cultural revolution taking place over the last decade with cÈline logo at its forefront.
Philo’s Céline was in many ways the last man defending old virtues when the success wasn’t measured in quantities or followers or likes, but in artistic virtuosity exhibited in ultimately wearable collections that than trickled down all the way to high-street chains. In the time when the fashion industry has been shaken to its foundation, and common sense isn’t that common anymore, Phoebe’s departure and the way it was handled felt like the last frontier has finally succumbed to the pressure, or just apathetically moved aside paving the way for commercialism and noise to take over.

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by purchasing into non-conformist esthetics one was bound to pose the question ‘Who do you dress for?’.

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I remember the presentation of Pre-Fall collection resembling the funeral wake. Even food was served in one of the adjacent rooms where the puzzled expression on the attendees faces clustered around few tables was accompanied by mournful muffled chatter.
I highly doubt that tomorrow will be different.

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