Finally, after a two-year wait, Phoebe Philo has quietly announced her eponymous label will launch on October 30. Although she unassumingly dropped the announcement via an email to her mailing list subscribers, the news quickly and loudly reverberated around the style set.
Of course, as one of the world’s most revered designers, it’s no surprise that the bulletin has broken fashion social media (even during the noise of Paris Fashion Week, no less). The British designer became something of a cult figure in the industry following her incredibly successful ten-year tenure at Céline, where she developed a cool, minimalist wardrobe for women looking for easy-to-wear, effortlessly elegant clothes — or Old Céline as her archive is reverently referred to after Hedi Slimane took over and controversially removed the accent to make it Celine.
After departing the LVMH-owned brand in 2017, industry rumours swirled about her next move, and she’s been posited for every major creative director vacancy of the last few years, including that of replacing the late Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel. It was only after a four-year hiatus the superstar designer confirmed she would be making a return to fashion, and this time with her own eponymous label, back in July 2021.
In a statement released to the Business of Fashion in February, Philo said her first eponymous brand will sell “clothing and accessories rooted in exceptional quality and design”.
“Being in my studio and making once again has been both exciting and incredibly fulfilling,” said Philo, who is based in London. “I am very much looking forward to being back in touch with my audience and people everywhere.”
And today, “Philophiles” (as her fans are known) the world over can start saving. According to the email sent out on Saturday, her debut collection will be available to shop on phoebephilo.com from the launch date. Considering the New York-London-Milan-Paris circuit will be wrapped up by then, it seems that Philo has decided to opt out of any official Fashion Weeks. That’s not to say whether the grand unveiling won’t take place on a runway — it would certainly be in keeping with Philo’s do-it-your-own way mantra - but as it stands, there’s no more information on how else she’ll mark the occasion.
French luxury group LVMH has taken a minority stake in the new venture, which means Philo should have free reign on the direction it takes, something that was important to her. “To be independent, to govern and experiment on my own terms is hugely significant to me,” she continued. “I have had a very constructive and creative working relationship with LVMH for many years. So, it is a natural progression for us to reconnect on this new project,” Philo added.
The backing of the luxury behemoth will, of course, give Philo’s hyped brand some much-needed financial stability and resource power; both of which will be important for a new label finding its feet in a post-Covid fashion landscape.
For LVMH, it’s a major coup. Philo’s upmarket but understated reinvention of Céline struck a chord in the years following the 2008 financial crash, when there was a move to a quieter, less flashy luxury — way before HBO drama Succession trend set “quiet luxury”. The handbags she designed for example, like the Luggage and the Classic, were free of any logos or branding, and became overnight hits with fashion editors and anyone looking to associate themselves with Philo’s brand of more considered, sophisticated consumerism.
These self-styled “Philophiles” adored the discreetly luxurious aesthetic of the clothes, which majored in oversized polo necks, silky tracksuits, baggy shirts and long hemlines paired with Stan Smiths (a shoe Philo put on the map) or quirky ‘ugly’ shoes (a concept she also pioneered). Philo’s Céline avoided anything overtly sexy, and was loved by so many for its firmly female gaze. These were not clothes men thought women should wear, they were clothes for women like Philo herself, who have to get s*** done. And thus, they flew off the shelves.
LVMH does not declare results for individual brands, but according to market analysts, the designer’s collections lifted annual sales from €200 million to more than €700 million by the time she departed in 2017.
Whether she can emulate such a stratospheric success story with her own label will depend on whether the famously anti-tech designer can communicate effectively with the new digital-first consumer. If she can, then perhaps we will finally see a move away from the maximalist, logo-heavy aesthetic of brands like Gucci and Balenciaga which have found popularity among an Instagram and TikTok-obsessed audience.
Can Philo tempt millennials and Gen Z from their neon heels and logo belts? As LVMH chairman and chief executive Bernard Arnault said, she is “one of the most talented designers of our time”. If anyone can, Philo can.