How Phoebe Philo’s Céline Brought Female Empowerment Back To High Fashion

Following the news that Phoebe Philo is allegedly exiting Celine, we look back at how Philo infused female empowerment into everything Celine produced.

Rumours that Phoebe Philo is leaving Celine have been circulating in the fashion world for more than a year. Now, however, there seems to be more ground for these speculations. Even though no official statement has been issued from LVMH, sources from within the conglomerate have ostensibly confirmed that designers are being interviewed for Philo’s position.

Backstage Summer 18 Collection #CelineSummer18 #celine

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Even considering the revolving door of designer exits and appointments, Philo’s exit is still a shock. Having arrived at Celine in 2008, Philo is one of the longest-lasting Creative Directors in the world of luxury fashion. Not only that: It’s almost impossible to imagine Celine without Philo. Before her appointment, the Parisian brand was, in the words Sarah Mower, “one of those minor-league brands that, in absence of any fixed identity of its own, is destined to play along with the trends in order to keep up its claim to being part of things”. During her tenure at Celine, Philo managed to forge an identity for a brand which had previously only played catch-up. Plus, the numbers speak for themselves: Celine’s annual sales rocketed from approximately $235 million to over $800 million during Philo’s directorship.

During her time at Celine, Philo created a consistent and covetable wardrobe for the contemporary woman. An outspoken feminist, Philo has always criticised the sexualisation of the female body in fashion. Her carefully curated, minimalist and perfectly cut collections gave “power to women”. Here’s how Philo wove female empowerment into the very fabric of Celine.

Empowering wardrobe

Céline Winter 17? Collection ? #celinewinter17 ?#celine #?w?inter17 ?#?p?fw ?#?l?ook?16

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“I am not a big fan of women being sexualised through clothes”, Philo stated in an interview with Vogue’s Alexandra Schulman in 2014. This distaste for sexualisation is clear from her very first collection. Instead of following trends, she developed a consistent vocabulary of Celine-isms that she has been returning to through years. Celine’s camel coats, wrap skirts, leather T-shirts and asymmetric dresses have come to symbolise contemporary elegance.

Backstage Summer 18 Collection #CelineSummer18 #celine

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In Philo’s design language, minimalism has always been synonymous with empowerment. “Strong. Powerful. Reduced.” was the name of her AW 2010 collection that consisted of navy-hued funnel-neck coats and sharp, Helmut Lang-esque separates. Such garments were designed with a very literal no-frills attitude; they allow the wearer to indulge in elegance and style, but without compromising practicality. Embrace fashion, Celine’s clothes say, but don’t let it get in the way of you living your damn life. The smart daytime wardrobe that Philo introduced was intended to suit the contemporary woman: a professional, a city-dweller, and a mother. It’s no coincidence that the soundtrack chosen for SS 2017 was a recording of far-off urban noises with children’s voices in the background.

Empowering campaigns


Celine’s campaigns of the last 10 years have been as minimalist, sharp and stylish as Philo’s collections. Juergen Teller is a frequent collaborator with the brand — his series with Daria Werbowy in particular truly captured the essence of Celine. The model — who enjoys a successful career, but maintains a strictly private personal life —  could be considered the ultimate Celine icon.

Céline Spring 2015 Campaign

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Another Celine campaign which will go down in history is the Spring 2015 with Joan Didion. By choosing the then-79-year-old Didion as the face for brand, Philo not only defied the impossible standards of the fashion industry, she also reinforced Celine’s reputation as the fashion house for the highbrow, intellectual woman. Didion wasn’t chosen because she was a pretty, sexy clotheshorse; she was chosen because she’s Joan fucking Didion. Celine’s priorities — and the priorities they want their consumers to espouse — were clear.

Empowering accessories

Backstage Summer 18 Collection #CelineSummer18 #celine #pfw

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Arriving at Celine in 2008, Philo put an end to the era of painfully ostentatious “It” bags, elevating the concept with clear-cut, unfussy designs. Her now iconic slouchy luggage bag stands as a symbol for Philo’s design philosophy: understated chic, but always in the most pragmatic way.

Another view. Céline Spring 17 Campaign #celine #spring17 #campaign

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Similarly, Philo can be credited with subverting the “pretty shoe” trend. Famously a fan of Stan Smith sneakers, Philo also championed the wedge, the “furkenstock” (fur-lined sandal) and, most notably, the glove shoe. The latter, a slouchy leather design with an elasticated opening, has since become a favourite of conceptual designers. You can see echoes of this design in the more recent collections by Joseph, Helmut Lang and Acne Studios.

So, if this is indeed goodbye Phoebe: farewell. You’ll be sorely missed. We hope your successor keeps the sartorial needs and demands of real women at the heart of everything Celine does.

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