And why is everyone on Instagram sharing #BringBackPhilo?
Highly motivated by some of the comments I received on Instagram asking why my discontentment (and that of many others) with Hedi Slimane as the new designer of Celine and the very obvious changes he has made to transform the brand into his own reflection of what a contemporary woman should be (spoiler alert: he doesn’t do it very well).
First of all, let’s clarify that this nuisance isn’t because of a mere aesthetic change, because an accent mark is missing or as the result of Slimane’s team deciding to delete the brand’s Instagram history before his debut in the brand. In fact, this is all about Phoebe Philo, her feminist ideology tangiblized in Céline and the imprint she has left on the history of the dress for the 21st century woman.
The British designer debuted in Céline in 2009 after her acclaimed work at Chloé, becoming one of the creative directors with the longest term in the world of luxury fashion. Just before Philo stepped in as creative director, Sarah Mower, Vogue’s fashion editor, described Céline as “one of those minor-league labels that, in the absence of any fixed identity of its own, is destined to play along with the trends in order to keep up.”
Along these years, Philo manages to impregnate himself so much in the French brand that it’s, even now, impossible to think of Céline without her. Soon after, there wasn’t a trend showcased on the catwalk that didn’t end up becoming a guideline for other brands, even seasons later. The designer managed to forge an identity for a brand that previously only managed to catch up, while designing a consistent and highly flattering wardrobe for contemporary women, moving away completely from the sexualization of the female body in the fashion world which she herself criticized.
Her collections empowered the female gender by wrapping it in luxurious fabrics, strong silhouettes that gave movement freedom, realistic colors for a wardrobe you can actually wear in your daily life, iconic and practical bags, a layering game that allowed the 9 to 5 woman to forget about the difference between dressing for day and night, and blurring the line that divided male and female aesthetics with a minimalist language.
That’s to say, a real empowered wardrobe which we all have surely consumed without realizing at high-street stores like Mango or & Other Stories that, year after year, were fed by the ideas that Phoebe put on the catwalk, or that you have been unconsciously practicing when changing your high-heel collection for a crisp pair of white sneakers (yes, the fact that sporting a pair of Stan Smith to the office is considered chic is also thanks to Phoebe).
For our generation, the end of Phoebe in Céline is like the day when J.K Rowling wrote the last Harry Potter book: nostalgic and restless. “Those who feared that the days when this brand defined what it meant to be a smart, adult, self-sufficient, ambitious and elegantly neurotic woman were at an end — you were right” wrote Vanessa Friedman in her chronicle for The New York Times.
Of course, for some people this is only fashion, but let’s remember that fashion has always been an evidence of the political situation of the times and Céline (with an accent mark) was a reflection of the current feminist movement, the acceptance of our bodies in their different forms, that empowered dressing is obtainable for our genre and the rules for “dressing for your body type” are a lot of nonsense. Phoebe taught us there’s no need to equate our sexuality to our power. It freed us as women in many ways.
Even if we ignore the psychological, social and political aspect that Céline influenced in her golden decade, we can’t ignore that Slimane’s proposals for Celine leave much to be desired. They disappoint us. Undoubtedly, women have changed over the last decade, and Hedi, with his rock ‘n’ roll look, short dresses with a plunging neckline, shine and eighties silhouettes obsession that go beyond impracticality, don’t bring anything new to the new generations (or ours, for that matter). “The new look of Slimane is the one of a low-cost brand“, states the critics of @diet_prada in their Instagram account after the presentation of Celine’s first collection.
The rules of life say it all: everything good has to end at some point but the only thing we can be assured of is that, if one day Céline returns as the powerful and transgressive brand that once was, no one would miss the retrograde and repetitive legacy of Slimane. For the moment, and as a new cult of nostalgia and millennial sisterhood, we have a visual archive named @oldceline on Instagram and a lot of pieces, bags and accessories available at second-hand luxury sites such as Vestiaire Collective or The RealReal. Meanwhile, us Philophiles we’ll be waiting patiently for Phoebe to be installed in a new fashion house or, failing that, to open her own brand.