THE BRITISH PRODIGY PHOEBE PHILO EMBARKED ON A METEORIC CAREER AT CHLOÉ AND BECAME THE CREATIVE DIRECTOR AT CÉLINE AFTER A BREAK SPENDING TIME WITH HER FAMILY AND HAVING HER SECOND CHILD. UNDER HER LEADERSHIP, BOTH FASHION HOUSES ENJOYED ENORMOUS SUCCESS AND GAINED A HUGE FAN BASE. INSTEAD OF GOING CRAZY ON THE BACK OF HER TRIUMPHS, PHOEBE REMAINS JUST LIKE HER DESIGN – COOL AND LAIDBACK.
Hardly any designer, as it were, is eulogised and idolised by the media, critics and customers as much as Phoebe Philo. Her flair for style and design has kept its finger on the pulse for almost two decades. Her shows are the highlight of Fashion Week; every fashion-conscious woman owns at least one of her numerous 'It' bags; she herself has become a style icon despite her apparent shyness towards the media.
INITIAL CAREER STEPS
She was born in Paris, grew up on the outskirts of London and later forged her career at 'Central Saint Martins' college. Both fashion capitals and THE University of Fashion Design on her CV are a small indicator to the impressive career which was to follow. Her friendship with Stella McCartney during her student days finally got the ball rolling.
Both fellow students not only got along well personally but they also had the same taste and formed the perfect design team. They travelled to Paris together and helped bring the French label Chloé to new heights. After five years initially as, the assistant to Stella McCartney, Philo became the creative director herself in 2001 and increased Chloé’s sales by more than 60%.
She wowed her young clients with cool collections which were characterised by fun and free-spirit and were underpinned with a slight vintage vibe. She herself said about her style: “My relationship with fashion is playful and very expressive of what I’m feeling at the time“. With this unmistakable feeling and the Paddington Bag she also marked the start of the legendary 'It' bag hype that would last an entire decade.
Despite the huge success, Phoebe Philo then withdrew into private life for two years. She could no longer endure the commute between London and Paris – between her young family and her job. Without a master plan regarding her career, she threw herself into family life during her second pregnancy.
All future anxieties after this career break were unfounded because the luxury goods group LVMH lodged interest shortly after her exit from Chloé. Initially, the negotiations revolved around her own signature label but quickly moved to the, what was then antiquated, Céline fashion house. Under the LVMH umbrella, this French label had fallen into oblivion over the years, which may have something to do with the fact that it had never spawn a strong character designer or signature pieces. It was precisely these shortcomings that appealed to Phoebe Philo. Thus, she could put her own stamp on the label without regard for norms and traditions. “I want to show my personality through my designs and stay pretty anonymous outside the industry.” Céline provided the perfect framework for her strong design visions and her pronounced publicity shyness.
THE REBIRTH OF CÉLINE
She cleared out the archives and created a new look – not only for the collections, but also for the entire Corporate Identity from the logo to the layout as well as the design of each individual boutique. With her extraordinary talent and a combination of the best French tailoring and modern design, which was inspired by London, she helped Céline celebrate a phenomenal comeback. The Philo factor turned the stale fashion house into a cult brand.
Having received numerous awards, today, the low-key designer belongs to the inner circle of the fashion elite. Despite her commercial success, she manages to preserve an exclusive character for herself and her fashion. Stella McCartney reveals one part of Philo’s secret to success: "She 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. One of the things we share is the reality that the clothes we design are actually worn. She is a mother too, and holds her family close; she has a protective shield that the women who wear her clothes feel. Phoebe has so much more to offer, and I think everyone is just waiting for her next move." Whatever that “Move” may be, it will be unrivalled, cool and incredibly coveted in any case.
Phoebe Philo not only designs for Céline, she is Céline. With her unconventional classic look, which is modern and, at the same time, is elegant and sexy, she embodies the intellectual French chic for which the fashion house is famous.
Despite the hype around her, Phoebe Philo often remains modest and restrained. "I have an innate fear of fame. I don't know where it comes from, but I have never thought that being famous looked like a good place to be. I love being incognito. I very much value my freedom."
As a young girl, she bleaches her hair, pierced her own nose and invents a fantasy world in order to escape the boredom of suburbia.
Phoebe Philo was born in Paris to British parents. She is the oldest of three siblings. Her father is a land surveyor and her mother an art dealer and graphic artist. The family soon returns back to Great Britain and Phoebe grows up in Harrow-on-the-Hill on the outskirts of London. On her 14th birthday, she receives a sewing machine from her parents and starts designing her own clothes.
After a foundation course at the ‘Wimbledon School of Arts’ she enrols at the ‘Central Saint Martin's College’ in London to study fashion design. She gets to know musician’s daughter Stella McCartney here. They quickly become close friends. Phoebe Philo lives with shoe designer Olivia Morris in Notting Hill and tries to find the perfect street look. “I had gold teeth” she later tells New York Times “and I wanted to marry LL Cool J”. During her training, she works with many young London designers in order to learn the practical side of the job.
Phoebe Philo graduates from 'Central Saint Martin's College'. After a short stint with designer Pam Blundell, she works for the label of her former fellow student and friend Stella McCartney. A year later, Stella moves to Paris to become artist director of Chloé. Phoebe Philo follows her as her first assistant. "Phoebe and I met in 1994 at Central Saint Martin’s in London. From then on, we were inseparable. She and I worked side by side in Paris, the naughty kids from London coming to the house of Chloé. "
Stella McCartney decides to leave Chloé to set up her own label again. Her departure signifies a promotion for Phoebe Philo. She is named as the new Creative Director at Chloé. Stella McCartney comments: "Phoebe stayed when I decided to start my own label and touched the house with her magic spell, a British talent taking over the world of French fashion." Over the next five years, Phoebe Philo increases sales at Chloé by an incredible 60%. Instinctively, she designs must-haves by the dozen for Chloé’s young target group. The sale of the babydoll dress, high waist Jeans and wooden wedges is overwhelming. With the ‘Bracelet Bag’ and Paddington Bag’ she creates the first relevant ‘It’ bags of the decade.
Phoebe Philo has turned Chloé into a global luxury brand which is commercially successful and at the same time is gaining recognition from all the critics. As a reward for her success, Phoebe Philo is named ‘British Designer of the Year’ by the British Fashion Council. A lot is also happening on a private level. In July, she marries gallerist Max Wigram and at the end of the year, the first of her two children is born. She calls her Maya Celia Sally after the Afro-American civil rights campaigner and poet Maya Angelou and the respective mother of Phoebe and Max.
After five years as artistic director at Chloé, Philo decides to withdraw to concentrate on family life. She is pregnant with her second child wants to spend time with her family in London. ”It was great to do Chloé. I knew more about what I wanted to do and who I was and what I stood for. I had my daughter, and with that came a deep sense of responsibility; my time for work had become precious, and it had to have more meaning. I just couldn’t take it anymore.” She surrenders her position at Chloé at the pinnacle of her success.
Within a year, she is wooed to LVMH but only with the assurance from Céline that the most important condition is fulfilled. The creative studio and Phoebe Philo’s work place will be relocated from Paris to London so that she can stay with her family.
After two years sabbatical, her return to the fashion world is a fresh start. It is to give Céline a complete rebirth. The fashion house, which is in creative and commercial stagnation, makes a new definition more than necessary. Boring collections, falling sales figures and the elegance of the label which has fallen into oblivion makes Phoebe Philo’s new job the greatest challenge of her career.
Her first presentation for Céline is the 2010 Resort Collection. After she skipped a season, Phoebe Philo presents “tailored" suits, elegant cocktail dresses and exceptional highlight pieces in a loft in Chelsea. The refined pieces are characterised by subtle cleverness in cut and fit. “We are not talking total looks”, Philo explains her approach. “It felt better to me to implement the idea of a wardrobe and not being too fixed on trends. I have worked hard to create things that stand the test of time" - and not only this. In December, Phoebe Philo was once again named ‘British Designer of the Year’. In the same year, her 'Mini Luggage’ and ‘Trapeze Bag’ bag designs initiated global hype.
Phoebe Philo drops out of a large show for Céline in spring and invites only a selected sphere of purchasers and media into the showroom as she is pregnant with her third child. Her son Arthur is born in April.
Phoebe Philo is not only one of the best designers but a seismic personality. She makes it onto the famous Time Magazine list of 'The 100 Most Influential people'. Queen Elizabeth appoints Philo an ‘Office of the Order of the British Empire’ and thus bestows on her one of the highest honours of all. She has the ardent recognition of modern businesswomen in the bag as the perfect role model.
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