On the list of looks you do not expect to see on the catwalk at Céline, fashion’s Parisian temple to cerebral chic, cute woodland animals rank pretty high.
But then designer Phoebe Philo’s modus operandi has long been to throw a curveball, explain it in only the most oblique terms, then sit back and wait for the rest of the industry to follow. Céline made the switch to laid-back separates back when everyone else was still doing those perky dresses that, these days, only daytime TV presenters wear. It pioneered polonecks a full three years before the trend exploded.
The latest collection was the fluffiest of Philo’s curveballs to date. At the home of cool minimalism, silk blouses came decorated with sketched otters and foxes, while ladylike wrap coats were lavished with wide fur collars. Where her previous collections have dazzled with their crisply symmetrical lines, this one bewitched with bedroomy fabrics, with clothes that looked about to burst through too-tight buttons. Coat dresses in pale quilted eiderdown silk were undone to show a glimpse of shoulder, dresses in camisole and petticoat shapes were layered and tangled, like an unmade bed.
Because of Philo’s uncanny knack for sensing twists and turns in the fashion plot before they happen, the intensely private designer is besieged backstage after each show by a fashionable mob wanting the answer to the question of what women should wear next, and why. But Philo, who was wearing a calf-length black skirt and white plimsolls with a back-to-front sweater in ribbed chocolate brown wool, open at the back and loosely fastened with cream cotton apron-style straps, had more questions than answers.
“It’s about the fine line between sexuality and sensuality,” she said. “What I am trying to do is to explore that, and I use all this as a way of finding out about myself. I am interested in glamour, but I have lots of questions about it: when is it too much, when is it not enough? When is it girly, when is it womanly? How can it be authentic with the way we work at Céline?”
These were open-ended questions, she said: hence a collection marked by its contrasts, in which ladylike coats in ruched cream leather and trailing scarves of black pom pom fur were mixed with dynamic, clean-lined jumpsuits and a new hybrid of the rucksack which resembled a shoulder-holster for a handgun. The animals, said Philo, were about “a charm, and also a darkness”.
The themes of the show echoed Prada in Milan, which also dabbled in the dark arts of ladylike dressing. But the codes here were all Céline’s own, especially a distinctive longline, fluid silhouette.
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