THE FASHION LAW EXCLUSIVE - On the heels of reports this summer that Phoebe Philo, creative director of French fashion house Céline, was looking to leave the company, our sources confirm that Philo is, in fact, departing from the house but will wait until the Fall/Winter 2016 collection is marketed to do so. Philo, who has swiftly made a name for herself since she started out at Chloé alongside Stella McCartney in 1997 and then joining LVMH-owned Céline in 2008, has almost single-handedly defined the aesthetic of this generation. Under the umbrella of LVMH, she has revamped a once-tired Parisian house and recasted it as one of the most talked-about, blogged-about, and copied labels each and every season.
As for Philo’s next move, our sources allege that the August 2015 report from Page Six that Philo was in discussions with luxury firm Richemont, which owns Chloé, Azzedine Alaïa and Cartier, for a position at one of their brands, may just be true. Sources close to the matter suggest that maybe Philo - but definitely a number of her team members - will end up at Alaïa. [NOTE: Alaïa has since released a statement, saying “Azzedine Alaïa S.A.S. formally denies any rumours related to changes in the creative direction of the Maison Alaia"].
If we consider this quiet industry darling for just a moment, the incessant rumors make quite a bit of sense. Philo, who has three children with her husband, gallerist Max Wigram, did, in fact, resign from Chloé at the height of her success in 2006 to focus on her family. Vogue noted in 2012: "Philo is a designer who has famously put family before work: as the first high-profile female designer to take maternity leave, whilst she was at Chloe - missing a season in 2005, which was then unheard of; before leaving the brand in 2006 to spend time with her new baby." Because of her third pregnancy, she is opted out of a fashion show in 2012, against the norms of Céline, in favor of a presentation. She works from a Georgian townhouse near her family home in London, having uprooted the brand’s design studio from its traditional home in Paris. With this in mind, we can reconcile the rumors that she plans to leave her current post simply because she would prefer to be closer to her family.
This will certainly be an enormous loss for Céline; Philo did, after all, turn this formerly overlooked French house into one of Paris's biggest players. She has also positioned it as a favorite amongst critics, fashion insiders and editors, alike. Philo, who is often hailed as knowing exactly what women want and as having die-hard “disciples,” Philophiles, with their "block-color tote bags hung from arms clad in graphic silk blouses and sharp leather sleeves," as the New York Times wrote in 2012, has dictated what women wear not only by way of Céline’s customers - those with great taste and serious money to spend. Her reach extends to her peers and to the high street, as well.
Writing for Fashionista some time ago, Lauren Sherman put it well: "[Philo] sets the tone, the trends, the looks that others will covet and copy for seasons to come." Philo's "it" bags for the brand - the Luggage tote, the Trapeze, the Cabas tote, the box clutch, etc. - immediately come to mind, as they are some of the most photographed (on industry insiders and celebrities) and thus, the most heavily copied bags on the market at any given time, with culprits ranging from Chinese counterfeiters to big U.S. brands.
But the copying does not stop at accessories. Similarly situated brands, emerging designers, and fast fashion labels all want a piece of Céline’s much sought after appeal in terms of garments. When it comes to the high street, Zara is one of the copy cats that is most frequently cited as the main shopping source for girls who cannot afford the Céline price tag but desperately want the Céline aesthetic (think: luxe minimalism for the strong woman, who is focused on building a wardrobe rather than on amassing garments and accessories based on throwaway trends) - to the extent that it is possible, considering that the brand is quite possibly the furthest thing from fast fashion - in quality and philosophy - that one can find. As Stella McCartney wrote in 2014, when Philo was named one of Time's 100 Most Influential People, "One of the few female designers, [Philo] celebrates the simple and champions the quality and reality of a woman’s wardrobe. When people invest in her work, they have it for life."
In short, Phoebe Philo is one of the real prophets of fashion. Stay tuned because this is one rumor that is actually just too serious to ignore …