For GentleWoman, Fashion Courier takes a look at the profile of Phoebe Philo, a British fashion designer who is loved – and trusted – by women around the world. From her first steps in the fashion industry to achieving global success at the Céline brand, we discover what Phoebe Philo’s femininity, minimalism and timelessness in fashion is all about.

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A woman for women

Phoebe Philo and her seismic influence on fashion means a lot to the modern women. After her unexpected disappearance from the fashion world in 2017, many fans of the British designer panicked. “What are we going to wear now?” asked distraught fashion bloggers and it-girls, as well as well-known art collectors and lawyers who regularly shopped at Céline boutiques. Philo, the former creative director of French luxury brand Céline, created a whole new lexicon of women’s closet that is still as relevant today as ever. When she presented her first collection for Céline in 2009, her refined, minimalist aesthetic introduced a unique but pragmatic way of dressing to stylish women around the world. It is said to have been the birth of a new kind of fashion, or so-called “quiet luxury.”

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Phoebe Philo

Fashion critics such as Tim Blanks and Sarah Mower credited Phoebe Philo with pushing fashion in a new direction: toward fashion that is economical in expression, devoid of unnecessary decoration and unergonomic, single-season accessories. Céline clothes were characterized by the highest level of workmanship as well as timeless design. Céline, according to Philo, offered women, as Vogue put it, “a grown-up and really fashionable way to dress every day.” Since 2010, minimalism has returned to fashion in earnest just because of her. She has influenced a whole generation of young designers, and her style has spawned more than a few imitators. Since her absence from the industry, many brands have been operating under Philo’s design ethos; she creates in the spirit of minimalism with a feminine approach. However, it must be admitted that such duplicity is still not the same as the original. The fashion world without Phoebe is simply not the same.

The beginnings of a career

What a lot of people don’t remember – or don’t know – is that Phoebe Philo’s style wasn’t always as we know it from her time for Céline. The fashion industry is rediscovering her years of work for the Parisian brand Chloé. Fresh from graduating from the prestigious Central Saint Martins in London, she first served as an assistant to Stella McCartney before taking on a solo design role for the fashion house. By 2006, Philo was creating clothes and accessories with the Chloé label for a generation of twenty- and thirty-something women who were often faced with having to follow fashion that didn’t speak to their desires, or ignored them altogether. In the 2000s, killer high heels, tight mini-dresses and low-waisted pants reigned supreme. In other words, Paris Hilton’s style in its full glory was rampant on the streets as well as at fashion shows. Fortunately, Philo introduced new terms into the style vocabulary of this period in fashion: wide-legged pants and comfortable high-waisted jeans (which hugged rather than exposed cleavage); over-size‘ow style blouses and shirts Parisian boho; shoes on wooden platforms; elongated leather bags with metal hardware; voluminous yet sensual dresses with subtly frivolous accessories (such as the iconic butterfly-shaped necklace worn by Carrie Bradshaw in an episode of “Sex in the City”). It was the emphasis on spontaneous, casual dressing that led The New York Times to call Philo“the Chanel of her generation.”

Chloé’s spring-summer 2004 collection is one of Philo’s best fashion creations from the early days of her career. Hollywood celebrities flaunted chiffon dresses in a shade of lettuce, while bathing suits and crop-tops in the iconic playful banana pattern – which came from this fantastically unconventional collection – reigned supreme on the beaches. The “Paddington” handbag, which made its debut on this runway for the first time, was memorably sold out even before it appeared in boutiques. This best reflects the impact of this British designer.

The period between the end of her work with Chloé, and the start of her new job at Céline, was a turning point in her life, and something unfathomable to the fashion industry at the time – which wasn’t really interested in the “real” life dilemmas of women. In 2005, the designer became the mother of Maya Celia Sally, leaving the brand in the hands of the team for one season. She returned to work for the spring-summer 2006 season, then left Chloé for good to spend more time with her family. This is an extremely brave decision in an industry that operates at such a dizzying pace and usually does not forgive a temporary absence. “It was great to create for Chloé, but after five years I realized who I really am and what I want to do in my life. I gave birth to a daughter, and with this event came a deep sense of responsibility; my time for work became precious and had to be given more importance. I just couldn’t pretend anymore,” the designer explained to Hamish Bowles for Vogue. Philo has become a true role-model for working women in the fashion industry as well as outside it – precisely because of her uncompromising assertiveness.

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Céline Decade

We are now moving on to a much-loved period of collaboration with the house of Céline, which I personally hold in great affection. In fact, every Phoebe Philo collection that was created for the brand between spring 2010 (a quiet but firm debut) and spring 2018 (a total sublimation of Philo’s mature style) is worth a separate description and glorious review. The British designer’s aforementioned minimalist style evolved from linen dresses with geometric cuts and perfectly tailored coats inspired by men’s classics into fashion that reflected different aspects of women’s lives – as well as redefined the concept of femininity.


Maternal instinct definitely fueled the British woman’s creativity. Jewelry from the 2017 spring pre-collection was inspired by baby toys, and the show for the summer season from the same year was accompanied not by music, but by a recording of children playing from the school that Philo’s kids (she now has three of them) attended. The designer loved to play with contrasts as well as contradictory notions of “good” and “bad” taste. She juxtaposed classic white shirts with floral-patterned jacquard skirts (Spring 2012), and styled floor-length evening dresses with thick picnic blankets as bedspreads or ponchos (Fall 2017). Philo perfected the art of contrast in her spring-summer 2016 collection, where she proved that you can wear a lace halter dress with red, garden-variety wellies and look insanely chic. In her final collection for Céline, the designer suggested wearing voluminous suits with white sneakers and plastic nets instead of leather bags. Parisian fashionistas replicated the look en masse. The designer loved to experiment with heel forms, but her runways were rather dominated by Birkenstock-style flip-flops (for the spring-summer 2013 season she introduced fur-lined sandals – first hated by the industry, then hailed as the hottest footwear model of the year!) and ballet flat s made of super-soft calfskin. The spring 2014 collection completely abandoned the recognizable minimalist style in favor of colors inspired by Mark Rothko’s paintings and patterns drawn from the traditions of African tribes, while the fall 2015 collection was a literal reflection of the saying “a woman is changeable.” Each silhouette in the collection was created with a different woman and a different personality in mind. This is what fashion is according to Phoebe Philo: unlike anything else, feminine in many senses and completely authentic.

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The number of bestselling accessory models created from under the hand of Phoebe Philo for Céline is really long. The “Luggage” handbag, an exemplary example of the 21st century it-bag , a harmony of elegance and practicality, is to this day a sales hit for the fashion house – just like the capacious “Trapeze”, the chic “Phantom” or the “Box” clutch bag, which fits every occasion. The situation with sunglasses is similar. Optical salons still house the famous “Edge” model today, especially in the show color of electric blue. Philo just instinctively knows what women really want.

A crucial element for Céline’s imageunder the creative direction of Phoebe Philo was the collaboration with groundbreaking fashion photographer Juergen Teller. The artist is famous for never-but-never! – does not retouch his photos. The designer collaborated with Teller for nearly 10 years, together creating the brand’s iconic – and to this day inspiring – advertising campaigns. The undisputed face of Céline was Daria Werbowy, a model of Ukrainian descent (it is interesting to note that she disappeared from the fashion industry at the same time as Philo, in 2017). Teller photographed the model in various, sometimes even funny situations, depicting the brand’s clothing and accessories with a touch of irony and distance. Specially for Céline, eighty-year-old writer Joan Didion stepped in front of the photographer’s lens in 2015. Posing in the brand’s black glasses, the ad campaign proved that age is really just a number. After the novelist’s death in 2021, the glasses in which she posed were sold at auction in New York for a couple of hundred thousand dollars.

Old Céline

The Old Céline Effect

Soon after Phoebe Philo left Céline at the end of 2017, a new phenomenon, even a mass movement, was born in the industry, called “Old Céline.” It’s all due to the account on Instagram @oldceline, which was created with the so called “The World’s Best” in mind. “Philo-files” (i.e., fashion fans of the British designer). Fashionistas around the world have begun buying up Phoebe Philo’s latest show collection for Céline, and prices of clothes with the brand’s label have skyrocketed on all resellingplatforms. To this day, Céline clothing and accessories are worn by Philo’s female admirers with extreme pride and joy. “Old Céline” is a remarkable community of women as well as men who adore the designer’s approach to fashion.

Given the effect of “Old Céline,” it’s not surprising that the contemporary Celine (already without the accent over the “e”) was met with critical voices and even a boycott. The brand’s current creative director, Hedi Slimane, erased Philo’s feminine sensibility and smart aesthetic in his very first collection, opting for a not-so-revealing bourgeois 70s style with a hint of grunge. However, after a critically disastrously received debut featuring almost exclusively black, kinky dresses for the Instagram generation‘s party girls, Slimane has managed to find his niche among customers.

When the Celine brand entered new territory with Slimane, the void left by Philo had to be filled somehow. Loyal customers of the “old” Céline began looking for brands that could replace Phoebe Philo’s style with dignity. Minimalist brands such as The Row, Lemaire and Jil Sander have certainly seen significant sales increases since the disappearance of a designer idolized by women. New York-based Proenza Schouler is an example of a fashion brand that has gone through an aesthetic renaissance, taking inspiration from Philo’s greatest hits to this day. Designers who have worked alongside Philo at Céline, such as Daniel Lee (the famous Bottega Veneta resurrector and current creative director of Burberry) and Peter Do, are internationally successful. But none of these designers has had the same impact on the industry as “Old Céline” and its creator.

Phoebe Philo

New brand, new me

Phoebe Philo fans can finally breathe a sigh of relief – their fashion icon is returning to the industry with her own brand! After a hiatus from fashion for more than five years, the Brit will show a new collection this fall and launch clothing and accessories under her own name. Philo will not only be the brand’s chief designer, but also its majority owner (the company has minority financial backing from French conglomerate LVMH). “Being in my studio and creating once again is both exciting and incredibly fulfilling,” Philo said in a brief statement to The Business of Fashion. “I am very much looking forward to returning to my audience as well as the fashion community. Being independent and being able to experiment on my own terms is hugely meaningful to me.”

What to expect with Phoebe Philo’s new fashion forward look? Most assume the return of the designer’s bestselling minimalist aesthetic. I, on the other hand, think we should expect… the unexpected. It is possible that Philo will return to the boho chic style of her period for Chloé, but I have a feeling that the designer will opt for a completely new direction after a few years of reflection and fashion detox. Whatever we see this fall, we can be sure – the Phobe Philo brand will be inspiring and absolutely desirable. In GentleWoman‘s editorial team, we’re starting to put away the must-haves from the debut collection!

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