Has there been a moment in fashion more highly anticipated than Phoebe Philo’s return to the industry? Maybe the introduction of pants as everyday wear into women’s closets, but beyond that, I’m unsure.
Today, Philo launched her eponymous line. The designer had announced earlier this year, via a new Instagram handle, that her inaugural collection backed by LVMH would be available through her website.
Philo, known for her minimalist and effortless approach to clothing, revived Celine (back when it was Céline) and brought the brand into the modern era during her tenure from 2008 to 2017. Céline became covetable, both through singular “It” items like the Luggage Tote and Triomphe Bag and as its own aesthetic. There are still digital shrines erected for her time helming the label and vintage sales taking place both online and during Paris Fashion Week for items from Philo’s collections. She was hailed for creating a visual code for how women actually want to dress, when divorced from the male gaze. While the anticipation for Philo’s brand had been building in the last few months, rightful critique of the designer has resurfaced. In 2013, legendary models Bethann Hardison and Iman both accused Philo of racism on the runway.
“She’s a cool girl. But Celine has never had a colored person showing in their collection. Ever,” Hardison told the Standard. “And yet they have the best accessories; every Black woman who has money buys her accessories.”
In that same article, Iman, on the other hand, said she refuses to support the designer or the brand: “I walk the walk. I can get another It bag. I have my wallet,” she said. “I make a conscious decision not to buy that stuff.”
In a 2022 appearance on “Sway’s Universe” that has recently resurfaced, Iman once again noted Philo’s alleged resistance to using models of color, referencing a conversation between the two in which Iman said the designer asked her if she was going to be “forced to use Black models.” For the supermodel and advocate, the question itself was enough for her to boycott the designer entirely. “That’s why I have never bought a Celine bag,” Iman said. “She has a right to her runway, and I have a right to my pocketbook.”
Despite these claims, to which Philo has yet to respond, devotees who are either in the dark about the allegations against the designer or have chosen to turn a blind eye have been flocking to the unlaunched label in droves. Philo’s Instagram account, which now has over 311,000 followers, posted a singular infographic on Febuary 19 to comments from fashion editors like “screaming shaking crying throwing up.” One comment from singer Lily Allen said, “Not buying anything till Sept.” The post has since been taken down, but two things are clear: Philo’s disciples had been waiting eagerly and — to be quite honest — rabidly for her new collection, and many have been watching to see if the designer will implement changes to reflect a more diverse and inclusive clientele.
It seems, though, that old habits die hard. Philo’s release was met with a smattering of mixed reactions, in part due to its lack of accessibility, even for high-end and luxury consumers. While the Cut’s own fashion critic, Cathy Horyn, raved about the collection, likening it to the a moment that fashion took “a big step forward,” and fashion fans online drooled over loafers and several unique coats, others took issue with the designer’s price point. On Philo’s site, a structured, tailored jacket is retailing for $4,200, a pair of polyamide leggings for $1,100, and a set of viscose twill trousers for $5,200. Sean Garrette, a content creator and Dior esthetician, tweeted, “I knew Phoebe Philo’s prices were going to be quite exorbitant, but she’s absolutely lost her mind pricing a basic leather tote at 9k.” Cortne Bonilla, a freelance fashion writer and Vogue contributor, joked that Philo is surely “trolling” all of us with her price points. Shelton Boyd-Griffith, a former Essence fashion editor, wrote that while the line is luxury, and the cost follows suit, “it’s still a new house so a $8,500 bag right out the gate just feels disconnected. Yes we know Phoebe Philo for Chloé or for Céline, but we are just being introduced to Phoebe Philo. The prices should reflect that.”
Others in the industry, like fashion writer Louis Pisano, made note of Philo’s lack of size inclusivity (it seems most of the garments in designer’s new line go up to either a U.K. 14 or 16, which is roughly a U.S. 10 or 12), and also alluded to Philo’s use of Black models in her campaign imagery as performative at best.
Despite public criticism, much of Philo’s stock has already sold out online in just a few hours: A plain gray crewneck, square-toe pumps, cargo pants, split trousers, heeled loafers, and a silver necklace with the word mum repeating on it are among a few of the pricey inventory that has been wiped out. It seems that for many dedicated fans, money (and perhaps inclusivity) are no object, at least when it comes Phoebe Philo.