So ardent was the clamour for hugs and double kisses around Phoebe Philo after her Céline show at Paris fashion week on Sunday lunchtime that, by the time the designer came to speak to reporters, she had pulled off the camel sweater worn to take her catwalk bow. Under it she was wearing a black cotton T-shirt printed with Before The Dawn, the name of Kate Bush’s current tour.
Bush was only an oblique reference in this collection – the song This Woman’s Work (“I should be crying but I just can’t let it show/ I should be hoping but I can’t stop thinking”) was the soundtrack to the show – and Philo, who saw her perform a few weeks ago, talked backstage about Bush not as a visual reference, but as “someone who seems to really know who she is … I’m very impressed by that”. Yet something in the way Philo, usually inscrutable and, deadpan and aloof, cast herself in the unlikely role of fangirl – the tour T-shirt, the song on a loop – spoke for what this collection was about. It was warm, immensely likeable, more feminine than the rigorous, almost brutalist chic Céline has come to stand for.
Each model had her hair brushed smoothly into a girlish half-ponytail, secured with a simple gold hoop clip – a detail that recurred on the fastenings of the handbags, which were more structured versions of the bucket-shaped bags popular on the front row. (Given that Philo took the ubiquitous tote bag, added pleasing angles and symmetry, and produced her It bag, the Trapeze, this new framed-bucket shape is likely to be one to watch.)
The mid-calf hemline that began at Céline and now rules the catwalks was upheld, but with deep splits or scooped-out peekaboo arcs banishing any austerity. The contrast buttons of last season’s show were revived in elegant, Deauville-esque rows of black buttons on cream trousers and tunics. Padlock fastenings added a frisson of sex to silk dresses, while florals – red roses on black, or 70s-orange daisies on white – were double-layered, an asymmetric tunic over a long skirt lending an unexpected air of spontaneity. There was a cute streetwear joke in patch pockets placed so low on the backs of trousers that these perfectly cut pieces nodded to the look of low-riding jeans.
Oh, and having shod the entire fashion industry in her cult skate sneakers, she revealed next season’s must-have flat: a neat, elasticated white ballet slipper, flat or with a small block heel.
Céline is a cult label, but a seriously powerful one. Philo throws out an idea one season – casually, like a small smooth pebble she found in the pocket of her perfectly slouchy black trousers – and the ripples are seen in other designers’ collections for seasons to come. Sometimes, her vision of the silhouette or colours you will find yourself wanting to wear in a year or two looks a little confusing when it first appears on the catwalk, like a text message garbled by predictive text – but there almost always turns out to be a kernel of truth in her fashion prophecies.
So for Philo, who has spent six years wiping clean fashion’s slate and pursuing an ideal of a modern, clean, entirely non-retro way of dressing to explain backstage that her idea was “vintage, borrowed, given” was radical. “I wanted it to feel like something you’ve collected, she said. “I was thinking about how very edited our lives have become, how edited I tend to be. About our need for certainty. I wanted to explore not editing, and see where that led me.”
The Chloé catwalk show, which followed Céline, was held in honour of the house’s founder, Gaby Aghion, who died on Saturday aged 93. Aghion sold her stake in the label in 1985, but remained a proud ally to the end: one of her last wishes was that in the event of her death, the show was not to be cancelled. Clare Waight Keller, the British designer at the helm of Chloé since 2011, instead dedicated the collection to her memory. Aghion was a pioneer of ready-to-wear, in the haute-couture dominated world of 1950s fashion, and began a strong tradition of a house led by talented female designers, who have included Martine Sitbon, Philo and Stella McCartney. McCartney told Womenswear Daily that Aghion “had an exceptional life and career and created one of the most individual houses in fashion … I was really proud to be part of the female fashion family, that she had made so successful at Chloé.”
After their barnstorming New York fashion week moment – they staged a play by Spike Jonze in place of a catwalk show for their Manhattan-based label, Opening Ceremony – Humberto Leon and Carol Lim presented their latest collection in their Parisian role as creative directors of Kenzo. Where Opening Ceremony was introspective – a play about the behind the scene dramas of fashion week – Kenzo was outward-looking. At the concrete moonscape of a skate park backing on to the Paris périphérique, the audience was greeted by a message, endlessly repeated in several languages: “Kenzo would like to remind you that there is no Planet B. Protect what’s precious.” The message was spoken backstage, delivered via a cartoonish avatar of a doe-eyed young girl, on neon screens all along the catwalk: there was something of the Hunger Games aesthetic in the youth of the girl, and the bleakness of the warning combined with the cruel calm of its delivery.
Previously, Kenzo’s highly laudable interest in environmental issues has had a laser-focus. A campaign against over-fishing saw sweatshirts emblazoned “No fish no nothing”. Arguably that narrow focus was more effective than this show, staged against a backdrop of generic environmental images: snow-capped mountains next to city electricity grids; a bloom of jellyfish cutting to a tower of satellite dishes. But if the meaning was a little vague, the clothes were pretty, and played the good-guys in this dystopian vision, with butter-wouldn’t-melt artist-smock shapes in dreamy chambray and broderie anglaise.
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