China’s ‘Philophiles’ are ready for Phoebe Philo’s comeback

What Happened: Two years after announcing the launch of her namesake line, Phoebe Philo is finally ready to share her designs with the world. The beloved designer and former creative director of Céline and Chloé will reportedly debut her new signature collection in September with 150 styles ranging from apparel to accessories. 

The designer is also slated to reunite with Canadian model Daria Werbowy, who appeared in countless Céline campaigns photographed by Juergen Teller during Philo’s tenure at the brand from 2008 to 2017. Werbowy will reportedly be the face of Philo’s namesake brand. 

Model Daria Werbowy stars in Céline’s Spring/Summer 2014 campaign. Photo: Céline

With fashion’s craving for “quiet luxury” seemingly not going away any time soon, Philo’s signature approach to understated chic couldn’t have come at a better time. But she returns to a fashion landscape different from the one she left, one where she’ll be tasked with leading a brand under her own name for the first time more than 20 years since she joined the industry.      

The Jing Take: Philo’s relaxed, feminine take on luxury dressing left an indelible mark on fashion, paving the way for the likes of Daniel Lee, who worked under Philo at Céline before leading Bottega Veneta and Burberry, and cult favorite brand The Row, whose founders Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen are known fans of Philo’s Céline

But for “Philophiles,” none of those labels have filled the void left by Philo. “No designer has been able to cater to the needs of contemporary middle-class modern women as accurately as Philo,” wrote fashion critic Tang Shuang on Chinese platform LadyMax of her return. “The image she portrays is what these women aspire to be — an embodiment of non-objectification, non-vanity, confidence, and attractiveness.”

Philo’s upcoming brand, of which LVMH commands a minority stake, will mark the first time the British designer has designed a line under her own name. The 50-year-old designer’s choice to launch her own collection after more than two decades in the industry stands in contrast to the career path of today’s rising stars. Many young designers, like Ludovic de Saint Sernin and Rhuigi Villaseñor who recently left their positions at Ann Demeulemeester and Bally, respectively, are only considered for creative director roles after creating a successful namesake brand. But once in the plum position of creative director, they face increasingly high turnover rates.  

Philo, meanwhile, graduated from Central Saint Martins to work under Stella McCartney at Chloé, where she succeeded McCartney as the brand’s creative director in 2001. She considered launching her own brand upon leaving Chloé in 2006, but instead took time to be with her family before assuming the creative director role at Céline in 2008. 

While many fashion brands are tasked with launching countless collections, large-scale fashion shows, and branching off into beauty and lifestyle products in order to remain relevant, Philo has not released a clothing collection since 2017. 

Xiaohongshu user Jeremy Young is skeptical about her ability to retain her status in such a landscape. “The fashion industry moves at a very fast pace, and today’s young consumers may not even remember who Phoebe is. Brands like The Row and Lemaire, which have a similar style to Phoebe Philo, have already occupied the relevant market,” Young wrote on the Chinese social media platform. 

But many fashion fans across the globe are still eagerly awaiting Philo’s comeback. She established an iconic style at Céline and a sellable one, given the popularity of the handbags produced under her tenure. Whether she can create that magic at her own brand remains to be seen, but either way the fashion world will be watching. 

The Jing Take reports on a piece of the leading news and presents our editorial team’s analysis of the key implications for the luxury industry. In the recurring column, we analyze everything from product drops and mergers to heated debate sprouting on Chinese social media.


Creatives, Fashion