Word came down the wire yesterday that Phoebe Philo has left Celine. What astounds me about Philo is her ability to plant an idea into the sub-conscious of culture, her designs don’t just shoot down to fast fashion as hot trends but rather send a ripple that alters the landscape. Take for example the fury slides and heels that Philo showed for Spring 2013, versions of both (seen here and here) are currently being offered at every fast fashion shop out there. Nearly 5 years after their debut. There are countless examples of this, but they go undetected, because Philo has the ability to change the way that women want to dress without them even knowing it. Her influence on her contemporaries as well as those who follow fashion is unparalleled, but the wonder of this is that it all happens with very little fanfare.
Philo single handedly ushered in the “age of minimalism” with her debut collection for Celine, for resort 2010 (which wasn’t even a runway collection). She was the first to expand on ideas over multiple seasons, to bring back designs and re-work them which tapped into the psychology of women everywhere who often buy the same thing repeatedly because it feels good to wear that thing. This translates to day-to-evening wear and capsule or uniform wardrobes, both huge in the post-2008 economic meltdown era. She gave us the arty, high flash in nature, unknown and often model-free ad campaigns (shot by Juergen Teller) which set the new standard for fashion photography. She gave us Birkenstocks and giant floppy shirt cuffs, camel coats with exaggerated, rounded shoulders, fashion vans & stan smiths, monochrome dressing, optic white boots and ballerina heels- trends that don’t just dissolve like cotton candy but seem to last, become part of the collective and fixtures in our closets.
For me, Philo’s tenure at Celine so represents my generation of women, Philo’s generation: Generation X. Women who grew up in the age of art pop and post-punk and third-wave feminism. Women who grew up in an analog world and watched as it went digital. Women that grew up watching films and reading books and magazine articles instead of Youtube videos, Facebook posts and Tweets. Women who frequented art galleries and book stores, women that want a tactile experience. Women who can appreciate technological advances but who know the value of having the space and presence to connect, and to use your imagination. Women who carved out careers and built families. Women who appreciate the freedom of not being observed and value solitude. Philo herself is famously private, rarely giving interviews, and has no online presence. She has a rather British sense of modesty and no bull shit attitude that translates to incredibly intelligent collections.
We are certainly in a new era: globally; politically; economically; and in the fashion world as well. If Philo’s debut with Celine declared the era of minimalism, Alessandro Michele’s debut with Gucci declared the era of maximalism. Certainly Demna Gvasalia and the indie designer movement have shaken the industry, turned it on its head. Instagram is now the top engagement platform for designers. Celine has not had a social media presence or even been offered online until very recently. Philo’s departure on the heels of this seems timely. The last few Celine collections have felt, to me, like a passing of the baton in some way. Little nods to the new guard seemed to say, “go on ahead without me.”
Philo’s departure has been rumored for a while, comments she’s made about wanting to disappear with her family have made people wonder if she might bow out of fashion entirely. She has a history of long absences, but there is already talk of where she may go next (possibly Burberry). For now, all we have are our memories and dreams and of course, the clothes.