Kirstie Clements: Why the long-awaited Phoebe Philo collection resonates so well

Phoebe Philo (centre) is a fashion world darling – and her new collection has been snapped up.

Phoebe Philo (centre) is a fashion world darling – and her new collection has been snapped up. Photo: Getty

A big moment in the fashion world occurred this week, with much- lauded designer Phoebe Philo launching her long-anticipated, eponymous collection online, with much critical acclaim.

Philo was the creative director of Chloe from 2001-2006, but it was her collections for the storied French fashion house, Celine, from 2008 to 2017 that cemented her position as a very contemporary designer, who supposedly really understood how modern women wanted to dress.

Her aesthetic was very reflective of the designer herself: Oversized shirting, high-waisted jeans, slouchy sweaters, wide, tailored pants, kooky shoes, scraped-back hair, no makeup – a sort of intellectual, minimal yet strangely sexy uniform for cool women, not girly fembots.

The fashion critics absolutely love Philo and she is a cult-like figure to her customers. So needless to say the collection sold out within hours, despite the phenomenally high price tags.

A jacket for $US25,000 ($39,000), a leather XL Cabas tote bag for $US8500 ($13,300), a chunky gold-plated necklace that spells out MUM for $US5000 ($7800), which I personally thought was sort of naff.

Phoebe Philo

It’s over $13,000, this is not just any tote bag. Photo:

I’m not all in on the Phoebe Philo train because I find some of the proportions difficult for somebody who isn’t pin thin, but I can see why her strong yet subtle design approach resonates with a large group of women.

There’s been a lot of criticism lately that there are too few female creative directors at the big luxury fashion houses, prompted by the appointment of Sean McGirr to follow outgoing designer Sarah Burton at Alexander McQueen.

It highlighted the fact that the Kering Group, which owns Alexander McQueen (as well as Gucci, Balenciaga and Bottega Veneta, to name a few) has no female designers in its stable, and that its array of male designers all look strangely similar – serious young white men in jeans and sweatshirts with slightly receding hair lines.

But it doesn’t necessarily translate that only female designers can truly understand what women want to wear. High fashion is also about art and creativity and ideas, and none of that is gender-specific.

Just because a designer is female doesn’t mean she has to make pragmatic, useful clothes – unless she specifically wants to.

I think a lot of consumers connect with Philo’s designs because there is coverage: Blouson leather jackets, big wrap coats, roomy suits.

Phoebe Philo

Philo’s roomy designs make them accessible to many people. Photo:

Coverage seems to be somewhat of an anathema to many male fashion designers, who prefer to send out bodycon, barely-there dresses that look good on paper and on a size 0 model, but challenge the regular women out here.

Philo is certainly not the first female designer in history to present grown up clothes. Let’s not forget Coco Chanel. German designer Jill Sander did a fabulous job back in her heyday, as did Donna Karan with her
“I mean business” suiting worn with bodysuits.

Happily, we don’t have a shortage of female designers here in Australia: Think about the incredible Nicky Zimmermann, Lee Matthews, Rebecca Vallance, Sophie Holt at Oroton, Bec Cooper and Bridget Yorston at Bec + Bridge, Deborah Sams at Bassike, Jacqueline Hunt and Lisa Dempsey at Jac + Jack, Lesleigh Jermanus at Alemais, Kudrat Singh at Mastani to name just a few.

Maybe the Kering scouts should make a trip here.

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