Phoebe Philo: Quiet Luxury, Obnoxiously Loud

Phoebe Philo has always been cool to the Fashion Girlies. Her arrival in the scene started with Chloe in the late 90s, first assisting Stella McCartney. Under her creative direction, some of the hyper femme Chloe sweetness was toughened up (leather coats over frilly micro-frocks; Mary Janes tri-buckled and chunky heeled); she glammed up the casual, making high street style a clever and coveted aesthetic. A decade later, a big move to an at-the-time out-of-touch Celine: Philo revamped its ethos, making it relevant to a new wearer, establishing a more generational bend.

Please bear in mind that the time of Phoebe’s arrival in fashion came at a very shocking time for her sparsed down style. The early ‘00s were, quite frankly, a minimalist’s worst dysmorphic nightmare: we’re talking Paris Hilton, bedazzled Razr phones, tight low slung jeans, and the era of name-dropping via brands and monograms on garments. There was no COS (not to mention internet shopping was not yet a household practice) and there was certainly not a lot of available androgyny, nor Clean Girl Aesthetic ambassadors, or tonal color palettes to offer or inspire.

Phoebe Philo leaned into the tonal. She wasn’t a harsh black-and-white art minimalist; she was a tomboyish oversized casual kinda woman. A Philo girl is the one who makes everything look effortlessly put together and chic in a ramshackle way. She encouraged wardrobes to be easy (steal from your boyfriend’s closet!), comfortable (the bigger the leg the better!), and timeless (quality garments should be a lifelong friend, and thus should be treated accordingly.) She was a Girl’s Girl. Even for the fashion mavens not wearing Chloe or Celine, Phoebe was acknowledged as a real one. She did not bow down to beauty standards, instead she challenged them. No makeup, messy hair, older models. She had a vision and she did not dumb it down. Instead she relied on the intellects to join her.

And the intellects have certainly remained loyal… at least according to the @oldceline IG account, boasting 361K followers- a fan-run documentation of all things Phoebe-design era. After October’s drop of Phoebe Philo’s own namesake collection of garments and accessories just after her 50th birthday, @oldceline morphed into a Philo fanzine flurry. The drop revealed everything a Phan would be expecting: high neck jumpers, XL leather bags, oversized shades, menswear- inspired tailored coats… The one unexpected facet? An exorbitant price point.

I sat for quite a while, thinking about the average customer of Phoebe Philo. It’s not that I can’t imagine them- I can envision them quite clearly. I know what they’re driving and I know what they’re drinking. The question that kept popping up, is not who is wearing Phoebe Philo, but how are they affording to wear it? It appears a certain clique of consumers is, seeing as all the pieces sold out within the first couple days. Quiet Luxury is nothing new. Mary Kate and Ashley Olson of The Row bolstered an entire empire around the Quiet Luxury notion.

However, their pieces (which provide the same seasonless, lifetime intrigue) ranged from the obscenely priced embroidered evening dresses, to starter knit staples that I, and a number of other friends in New York, saved our precious pennies to purchase, as they were still comparable price points to those of other designers such as Marni or Dries van Noten. We chose to wear our mid-tier money more quietly, hence the term ‘Quiet Luxury.’ But unfortunately, Philo’s debut collection is not meant for me, and I’m sorry to say, it’s probably not for you either, dear Reader.

Twice this year, the New York Times has published exposes on the staggering costs that young fashion designers are currently facing, and how it is a potential problem not only for the creatives, but for a responsible industry as a whole. Head-down perseverance and the trope of a ‘struggling artist’ may long have been romanticized, but with a new generation of consumers seeking cost transparency, creatives demanding their fair share, a push toward egalitarianism, and an emphasis on experimenting with personal identity, Philo’s first collection (which is backed by LVMH investment) seems a bit tone deaf and out-of-touch to what is currently happening around her.

And while I love to see what she is creating for herself and for all her fellow well-to-do mums, I’m not sure we will be seeing much of Phoebe Philo in the flesh or hung on shoulders, so much as in the elitist tropes many fashion crowds are beginning to turn against. When the Revolution comes, will the Mums be saved? Unlikely so, but at least they will look good, pushing their strollers to the Front Line…