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A Renewed Sense of Purpose at Céline

Phoebe Philo opted for optimism in the face of the spectacle of disorder, achieving maximal effects with minimal means. If complex simplicity sounds like a paradox, it’s one measure of this designer’s unique achievement.
By
  • Tim Blanks

PARIS, France — "If there's anything to say at the moment, let it be with love," Phoebe Philo declared after her show for Céline. And so she did, with a collection that was filled with clothes to inspire desire in the getting and love in the having. Like many other designers this season, Philo has opted for optimism in the face of the spectacle of disorder that continues to unfold around us. Architect Smiljan Radic designed her a huge white, light tent as an upbeat backdrop. The audience perched on benches covered with sleeping bags to soften their seats. The cocooning mood was consolidated by the first few looks, trench coats with hems buttoned up to create enveloping volumes. Mary J. Blige's rendition of "You're All I Need to Get By" played on a soundtrack full of Phoebe's soulful choices. Everything spoke to a radical re-engagement on her part, a renewed sense of purpose which filled the collection with the spirit that originally made her the people's choice.

The standout was her use of leather. Take the taupe cape, for instance, or the white leather poncho that closed the show. Their sensual understated luxe was the clearest embodiment of Philo’s stated inspiration, a memory of an old Céline ad from the 1970s, a vision of a well-heeled woman on the Avenue Foch. Classic, confident, free. The caftans sent the same message. So did the extravagant swing of the heavily fringed looks.

Philo isn't infallible. She's partial to oversized men's tailoring, but here it tipped into giant waistcoats over giant floral polo shirts which felt contrived next to pieces as straightforward as a roll-necked t-shirt dress coated with an intangible glisten, or a torrent of sequins. It was pieces like that which underscored the way Philo is able to achieve maximal effects with minimal means. And if complex simplicity sounds like a paradox, it's one measure of this designer's unique achievement.

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