Phoebe Philo's Céline collection has the power to shape a fashion season and the anticipation for the British designer's latest one was palpable before the Paris fashion week show on Sunday afternoon. Philo's point of view is hugely influential but also closely guarded, with no social media presence. In a world where Instagram is king, this combination is tantalising, and key to a brand that had built a reputation for discreet, thoughtful luxury.
For her spring collection shown in September, Philo shed the minimalist tag that has stuck since she took the helm of this Parisian luxury brand in 2008, with a bold collection of brush strokes and primary colours. Six months on, her autumn 2014 offering was what could be called a halfway house. There were the quieter pieces that spawned a devoted following but they mixed with something bohemian in feel.
The first look was a close-fitting calf-length black double-breasted coat gently flared at the hip. Frayed edges on the backs of the sleeves provided the kind of detailing that fans obsess over. Worn with flatforms featuring ribbed soles, one long earring made of small trinkets and oversized Lucite bangles, the classics were subtly subverted in that now-trademark Philo way.
This continued throughout. A knitted khaki dress formed of gentle origami-like folds was combined with a gingham shirt and boots with soles like Dr Martens felt graphic, cute and streety all at once. Evening coats looked at first glance to be embellished with feather actually used yarn, bringing an unexpected, more robust element. The bags, so successful for the LVMH-owned house under Philo, came in portfolio styles and a new hexagonal shape. Snugs to keep your hands warm in shearling and fur were also carried, adding an extra accessory element.
Some looks were a harder sell, even to the most loyal Céline customers – see a knitted ribbed tunic and matching flared trousers. Bringing back the flare may be a mission to defeat even Philo's powers of persuasion.
Backstage after the show, the designer looked relaxed in a grey sweater, cropped trousers and her trademark Stan Smith trainers. She explained the collection was about "the tough and the tender" and the combining of masculine and feminine shapes. Dada artist Hannah Höch appeared on the invite for the show and the German collagist's influence could perhaps be seen in the melange of elements. "It was about found, loved and borrowed things," said Philo.
Earlier in the day, another LVMH brand, Kenzo, presented its collection. With set designed by American auteur David Lynch, doors opened to reveal a metre-high plaster sculpture of a screaming head backed by a screen playing footage of grey stormy skies. The collection, designed by American creative directors Carol Lim and Humberto Leon was inspired by Lynch's work. Colours were bright and a little jarring – with high-vis orange, metallic copper and chartreuse. Most models were layered up for freezing temperatures in Twin Peaks with parkas, thick tights and jumpers often in contrasting prints. Although the duo's sense of fun came out in poppy oversized clutches reading "Forever, no?" and a print of mechanical parts of a clock, the overall feeling was a little po-faced. This is a brand that triumphed with the street-friendly cool of Lim and Leon when they took over in 2011 with a riot of sporty pieces such as sweatshirts and witty, vibrant prints. Two years on, there are signs the story has stalled just a little.
The same can't be said for the LVMH group as a whole. Results for 2013 announced in January this year show net profit up by 0.4% to £2.8bn with Céline reaching a sales record. Louis Vuitton, the jewel in the conglomerate's crown, is next to show at Paris fashion week. Taking place on Wednesday, this will be another much anticipated event: the debut of new artistic director, Nicolas Ghesquiére.
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