Phoebe Philo Fans, Some Possible Alternatives

In one fell swoop, the new Celine was effectively telling former, less-attenuated fans and customers to eff off! But all is not lost. Until the return of Phoebe Philo (or not), some names to consider


Celine SS 2018 adSpring/summer 2018, Phoebe Philo’s last collection for Céline, shot by Juergen Teller. Photos: Céline

By Mao Shan Wang

Enough of harping on what Celine is today or, come January, when the new collection drops, what there is nothing to buy. Trends come and go, so do labels: Look at Lanvin. Besides, loyalty is not as valued as it was before. Only tech companies appreciate loyalty. Apple wouldn’t be where it is today if customers were fickle about why they like the brand. But if there’s something that can be gleaned from the world’s second largest smartphone maker (okay, third-largest since Huawei has overtaken them in August, according to media reports), consistent aesthetic identity is key. An iPhone will always look—and feel—like an iPhone.

Fashion is, of course, not the same as communication devices. It does not have to be user-friendly and it’s a lot more manic and far more mutable, having to update itself up to six times a year, and, now, with monthly drops. But, perhaps due to this need for constant renewal or, rather, refreshment in most cases, some kind of brand consistency is necessary. Unfortunately, for fashion—the luxury business, brand recognition alone is enough, not nearly substance and not nearly astonishment. And since egomaniacs are often installed as creators of the brand’s products, they would like to obliterate what came before. It’s a matter of how ruthless.

Sure, we’re all going to move on to something else. No one died a sartorial death after Michael Kors decamped Céline to continue his own label. I don’t remember anyone knowing at that time that they desired the unsexy but alluring shapes that Phoebe Philo introduced until she did. Fashion is variegated, and there will be others, while not entirely the same as the Céline that, as The Gentlewoman rightly noted, “cut through fashion’s tired fantasy… for sharp reality and hyper-luxurious clothes”, are surely just as genial, pleasing, and intelligent. These are my pick.

Dries Van Noten

Dries Van Noten SS 2019Photos:

I was resistant to adding Dries van Noten to this list, but in his spring/summer 2019 show, I saw quite a few pieces those willingly labelled Philophiles would find compatible with their wardrobe: the loose-hanging jackets, the easy-fit shirts, the modern-sporty outers. Mr Van Noten did not always design like this, but his designs have a certain romance that is increasingly missing in today’s clothes, and an artsiness similar in spirit to what Ms Philo introduced in her latter years at Céline, a welcome flourish at a time when minimalism was being redefined for the post-Helmut Lang era customer.

Haider Ackermann

Haider Ackermann SS 2019 G1Photos:

This may not seem like an obvious choice. The designs of Haider Ackermann is, however, on track to welcome former Céline fans. The non-body-defining shapes, a slouchiness that suggests I-don’t-care androgyny, and a palette that has more in common with the holy than holi are, to me, the sensibilities that Philo followers can relate to and would desire to buy. What I consider a plus, too, is that Mr Ackermann, who, in 2010 was tipped by Karl Lagerfeld as a possible Chanel designer should the latter bow out, constructs in such a way as to never let the clothes look too dressed-down.

Jil Sander

Jil Sander SS 2019 G1Photos:

It’s hard not to be lured by Luke and Lucie Meier’s clean lines for Jil Sander, arguably the Phoebe Philo of her time. Amid all the noise that fashion now rides on, the Meiers’ quiet tones and gentle shapes are as refreshing as a palate cleanser. Some people think their aesthetic is minimal to a point that it’s almost suited to conventual life. But it is precisely the serenity that the clothes—with quirky details such as extra-wide, inside-out seam allowance and ungainly cuffs for sleeves—project that the more and less restrained Philophiles will adore.


Lemaire SS 2019 G1Photos: Lemaire

Christophe Lemaire and designing partner/wife Sarah-Linh Tran have a chemistry between them that fans and the media alike call poetry. Together, they have created a Lemaire that has more oomph than when Mr Lemaire soldiered on alone under his earlier eponymous label while simultaneously designing for Lacoste. Comparing the duo’s work with Ms Philo’s is probably not fair since Lemaire offers more intriguing details, such as odd pocket placements and alternatives to traditional fastening positions, which, in marketing speak, could be considered value-added. And what value!


Loewe SS 2019 G1Photos: Loewe

While Cathy Horyn thought that Loewe “might be getting too relaxed”, I thought that Jonathon Anderson did it, if true, for the right reasons. As counter stroke to the onward march of street fashion, other designers are pushing for tailoring, sometimes extreme tailoring that encases the body too closely and with shoulders that look ready for war. Mr Anderson, on the other hand, has guided Loewe on a different path. There is dressiness and crafting to the clothes, but with ease in mind. I don’t mean “relaxed” though, I mean freedom from constriction, from efflorescence, even the zeitgeist. Individualism doesn’t mean one has to forgo discernment.

It’s About U

Uniqlo UUniqlo loves letters of the alphabet for its branding. The letter U is especially appealing to them, not just because, we suspect, it stands for the brand, but also because it sounds like and is often used in place of ‘you’. Its latest sub-brand Uniqlo U follows the tradition first seen in the T-shirt line UT and later, the 2012 collaboration with Undercover, UU. True to its Lifewear approach to design and merchandising, the latest collection is positioned to appeal to many of you.

What is, perhaps, even more appealing is that Uniqlo U will be headed by Christophe Lemaire, who just two seasons ago began a collaborative line with the Japanese retail giant. To be sure, this is not another ad-hoc pairing. Mr Lemaire is permanently installed as overseer of the newly-created label (he still gets to design is own name-sake brand, which is done jointly with his life partner Sarah-Linh Tran). According to the media release issued by Uniqlo, this is an “appointment of Christophe Lemaire as Artistic Director of the newly established UNIQLO Paris R&D Center and the new Uniqlo U line.”

Campaign Visual - UNIQLO Paris RnD TeamChristophe Lemaire, centre, with his Paris-based design team

For fashion folk quite enamoured with both brands’ “elevated basics”, Mr Lemaire and Uniqlo are a natural fit. His two-season collection for the Japanese fast fashion brand was considered the most desirable after Jil Sander’s four-season venture (also marketed under a one-letter brand, +J). Mr Lemaire is, of course, no stranger to mass market labels, having served as CD at Lacoste for ten years. His previous position at Hermès, before resuscitating his eponymous label, meant that he is a designer that is comfortable with handling both ends of the market. This appointment may be rather unusual among fast fashion labels but not at Uniqlo, where the current design director Naoki Takizawa formerly helmed Issey Miyake.

Uniqlo’s headquartering of the newly formed R&D centre in Paris is also an interesting move. We are tempted to speculate that, in its quest to be the world’s biggest fashion brand by 2020 with a target of US$50 billion a year, it needs an Euro-centric aesthetic. If Paris is still where brands believe fashion truly bubbles, a base in the city is well placed and Mr Lemaire well appointed. It’s also note-worthy that in Mr Lemaire’s design team of 14 for Uniqlo U, seven are Asians. And they’re all there alongside the artistic director in the publicity photo distributed to the media. Perhaps this is the spirit of U. No one man takes all the credit.

Uniqlo U will be launched in the autumn/winter 2016/17 season. Watch this space for actual dates. Photos: Uniqlo