LONDON — Sometime on Monday, fashion obsessives around the world will stop whatever they are doing to take in the most anticipated fashion debut of the year. Phoebe Philo, who has been away from fashion for almost six years, after a decade-long stint at Celine which she transformed from a middling also-ran into one of the most influential labels in the industry, will finally take to phoebephilo.com to debut her first collection for her namesake brand, a project she revealed on BoF in July 2021.
After Phoebe left Celine in December 2017, the industry was taken by surprise when Hedi Slimane took on the brand’s creative leadership and retired her minimalist aesthetic. Slimane’s Celine is doing brisk business and is said to be approaching 3 billion euros in annual revenue, but it has left the tribe of so-called “Philophiles” without their beloved designer’s highly covetable bags, shoes and ready-to-wear.
Of course, Phoebe’s ‘old Celine’ designs are still in wide circulation on resale sites like Vestiaire Collective which says it has already facilitated the sale of 25,000 old Celine items this year. And several labels — from Jil Sander to The Row — have attempted to fill the gap she left in the market. Then there are also the labels helmed by her former protégés, including Daniel Lee, Nadège Vanhee-Cybulsk and Peter Do.
Such is Phoebe’s enduring influence that even new Gucci creative director Sabato de Sarno took a page from her playbook when he teased his new vision for the Italian luxury megabrand over the summer with advertisements featuring Daria Werbowy, the quintessential Phoebe Philo model, in a natural no makeup look that could be right out of an old Celine campaign.
This all begs the question, what will Phoebe do now to differentiate herself? She is certainly not the kind of designer whose aesthetic language stands still. Her collections from her successful five year stint as creative director at Chloé — boho chic dresses and bib front blouses, military jackets and of course the oblong Paddington bag with a huge padlock — don’t look at all the same as what she did during her time at Celine, which shifted the entire mood of the industry, then mired in the post-financial crisis recession, pushing it away from the excess of Y2K style towards a more discrete, understated, elegant luxury.
Indeed, unlike other star designers, like Slimane or Tom Ford, who are known for sticking religiously to their signature aesthetic, Phoebe has demonstrated she can channel different vibes that connect with the zeitgeist of the moment. However, with the launch of her label, Phoebe won’t want to alienate the 286,000 Philophiles — many loyal to her Celine look — who are following her on Instagram, as well as the fans who have registered for updates on her company website.
The only hint for now on what we might expect on Monday is the barrage of images that Phoebe released via email to registered fans at the end of September which have been analysed ad infinitum for clues on what her debut collection will look like. The fast paced digital collage reminds me of the moodbooks Phoebe used to leave on the seats at her Celine fashion shows. The only way to look at the new imagery properly is to take screenshots as quickly as possible and then examine them as stills: what you’ll see is a combination of mood photos, white feathers, gold jewellery and black leather on women of many ages and ethnicities.
But Phoebe’s digital approach is also a reflection of something deeper. Most star designers don’t get their own labels because it is very hard to make the economics of a start-up fashion brand work using the traditional luxury business model, rooted in expensive fashion shows and physical stores.
For Phoebe’s new venture to work, she is also going to have to embrace new ways of working. That she has moved to an all-digital launch (no fashion show invitation in sight!) and revealed the first visuals online demonstrates the most notable thing about Monday’s launch: Phoebe’s new operating model. The approach is (1) a necessity now that she is running a startup; (2) a reflection of the changing times given how and where the fashion conversation takes place; and possibly (3) a realisation that since she is starting her business from scratch, she can do things the way it make sense to her without having to operate by any industry rules or conventions.
During her time at Celine, Phoebe was decidedly anti-digital, refusing to engage with social media and resisting e-commerce until the very end of her tenure. On Monday, we will see Phoebe unleashed — and I for one am excited to see where she takes it from here.
The BoF Podcast
BoF VOICES 2023 is coming, from November 28th to November 30th, uniting the movers, shakers and trailblazers of the global fashion industry with thought leaders, entrepreneurs and inspiring people shaping the wider world.
In the coming weeks, we will be sharing some of my favourite VOICES talks from the past on The BoF Podcast. This week, we revisit a special conversation with the inspiring model Adut Akech who has appeared on the covers of a plethora of international magazines and walked for some of the biggest names in luxury, from Chanel and Dior to Prada and Valentino.
Adut’s story starts in South Sudan and Kenya, where she was a refugee before relocating with her family to Australia. She came to Oxfordshire for BoF VOICES 2018 and sat down with our editor at large Tim Blanks to share her magical journey into the fashion world.
To register for this year’s BoF VOICES global livestream, click here.
Imran Amed, Founder, CEO and Editor-in-Chief, The Business of Fashion
Plus, here are my other top picks from our analysis on fashion, luxury and beauty:
1. Why Some Luxury Groups Are Doing Better Than Others. The slowdown in demand for high-end brands is hitting the sector unevenly, as seen in the polarised third-quarter results released this week by Hermès, Kering and others.
2. Why Beauty’s Biggest Conglomerates Are Selling Off Their Brands. As strategics like Unilever and L’Oréal divest from once-core lines, a more selective approach to M&A is underway.
3. The DTC Watch Brands With Luxury Ambitions. Timepiece start-ups like Baltic, which went from Kickstarter campaign to producing $50K collector grade watches, and Christopher Ward, who is on track to reach more than $40 million in sales this year, are leveraging collector communities and innovation to take on high luxury watchmaking.
4. The Divine Decadence of Helmut Newton. The life and work of the taboo-busting photographer continue to enthral and scandalise in equal measure, writes Tim Blanks.
5. Case Study | Fashion’s New Playbook for Online Returns. The e-commerce boom may have cooled but online returns rates remain high, and the costs of processing them are more expensive than ever. BoF unpacks how retailers can reduce the costs of returns and protect profit margins, while improving customers’ shopping experience to generate higher sales.
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