A few weeks ago, the office of the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode, the French government organization that manages Paris Fashion Week, started getting phone calls. Where will the Phoebe Philo show take place? When will the Phoebe Philo show take place?
The answer was another question: What show? There would be no show. At least not one that the Fédération was aware of. Who knows if there was something in the works at some point, but by the time mid-September hit, the launch of Phoebe Philo’s namesake collection was once again delayed. “She doesn’t like it, so she’s not showing it,” a person connected to the design team said. Another blamed lateness: Italy’s factories closed in August, and the London-based studio failed to get things delivered early enough to be ready for a September debut. Yet another scoffed at such an excuse: it had nothing to do with production; she has priority access to the best facilities, and a team that knows how to get things done. The collection wasn’t ready because Philo wasn’t ready, this person said. (For what it’s worth, I did ask an LVMH spokesperson about the speculation. They didn’t comment.)
There were whispers that the collection would now be released during Frieze in London, which starts October 11. There’s logic in that approach: debuting a week after the shows in Paris have ended, and linked up with an art-world event guaranteed to be attended by Philo enthusiasts. After all, the company had made a stir over the summer by launching a landing page at Phoebephilo.com, where customers could register for “further news and updates.” So it must be coming soon, right?
But will it ever happen? Why has it taken two-plus years to get off the ground? What is going on here?
Philo the Money
A smart fashion executive once told me that most designers, the talented ones at least, have about a decade of creativity in them. What they do with that creativity—squander it, harness it, something in between—depends on their sensibility, the people around them, and the circumstances in which they find themselves.
Phoebe Philo is different. She hit not once, but twice. First at Richemont-owned Chloé in the early 2000s, where she helped define Y2K style. Then, at LVMH-backed Céline—the small, bourgeois French label that Bernard Arnault bought in 1988—where, over the course of 10 years (2008-2018), she changed the way we dress. So much of fashion today is bottom-up, with designers plucking inspiration from the street. Philo was top-down, and you can feel her influence to this day on the runway and at retail, in things as simple as the cut of a turtleneck sweater, the ubiquity of Stan Smiths, the trim on a lace slip.
So when Philo announced that she was leaving Céline almost six years ago, many in the industry believed she may never design again. After all, some of fashion’s most revered creatives (Martin Margiela, Helmut Lang, Thierry Mugler) had made hard-right exits, their most significant contributions preserved in time. But Philo’s connection to the person wearing her clothes is closer—perhaps because she’s a woman designing primarily for women, perhaps because Céline’s rise coincided with Instagram. In July 2021, it was announced that she would return, this time on her own terms, with her own namesake line, unsurprisingly backed by LVMH, which remained indebted to her. Céline was by no means a cash cow for the group, but it was a commercial success and, moreover, it brought them gravitas. No fashion week invitation was more coveted, no designer more revered, than Philo. As I’ve mentioned here before, it’s prudent of the world’s biggest luxury group to keep a firm hold on talent no matter the circumstances—the worst thing that could happen would be that she goes to a competitor.
Back in 2021, I heard that a big reason for announcing without any real plan for launch was that they were looking for a C.E.O. (you’d imagine that people would be lining up for this job, but perhaps they were eager to cast a wider net in post-Brexit London). The problem with that logic is that it created a fervor online. Great news if you are ready to go, not so great if there is nothing to offer. Every few months over the past two years, there would be an incremental update. Philo was seen meeting with her old Chloé colleague, Stella McCartney, apparently to discuss sustainability practices, WWD reported. Then news of the collection itself started trickling in: I was told by someone who saw an early iteration that it felt like an extension of her work at Céline, a new wardrobe for women who continued reverting back to buying old archival pieces online rather than opting for something new from someone else. But that collection was scrapped: word was that the new proposal was “goth,” “punk,” “more Rick Owens.”
In all, Philo seems to have started over at least three times. And the teams have changed, too. In April, Drew Henry, who began as an intern for Philo in 2011—and has spent nearly his entire career working for her—left his position as her ready-to-wear design director to join Burberry.