“Everything we’re doing is about going forward,” Phoebe Philo told Vogue in 2009, shortly before showing her debut Resort collection for Céline. Although the label had garnered headlines when it was revived by Michael Kors in the late ’90s, it was Philo who truly brought the till then somewhat somnambulant luxury house to the forefront. Critics credited her with pushing fashion in a new direction, toward a more spare, stripped-down kind of sophistication. What Céline now offered women was, as the magazine put it, “a grown-up and hip way to put themselves together.”
“I just thought I’d clean it up,” Philo said in an interview during those early days. “Make it strong and powerful—a kind of contemporary minimalism.”
Though Céline was founded in Paris way back in 1945, when Céline and Richard Vipiana opened a custom shoe shop for children, its modern incarnation dates to the 1960s, when the Vipianas began selling ready-to-wear. Luxe sportswear with couturelike finishing was, and is, Céline’s raison d’être. And so while Philo’s championing of understatement might have been interpreted as—and functioned as—an attempt to realign the prevailing values of the industry, she was, in fact, putting the emphasis back on the core fundamentals of Céline. She was able to shed a lot of post-millennial nonsense and frivolity without abandoning what she described as a quintessentially Parisian mood of “elegance, decadence, and those saucy, steamy Belle de Jour women that I find really seductive.” Thanks to Philo, the discreet charm of the bourgeoisie continues to, well, charm.