A Cultish Designer Returns. Fans Prepare for ‘Financial Devastation.’
“It’s like the second coming of Christ.”
“It’s like the Beatles breaking up and then reuniting five years later.”
“It’s like a royal wedding, but you don’t know when it will take place and it won’t be televised.”
Those are just a few of the playful analogies used by Los Angeles retail consultant Ramya Giangola to describe the imminent return of fashion designer Phoebe Philo.
Philo, a cultish figure who redefined relaxed, individualistic power dressing for women, is launching her own eponymous brand this fall. It’s the first work of hers we’ll see since she left her post as creative director of LVMH
brand Celine five years ago to focus more on her family. One of the few female designers of a major brand, she left Celine at a creative and commercial apex. Since then, the famously private designer, 50, has been hunkered down with her husband and three children in London.
We have the basic outline: Philo’s direct-to-consumer brand, which she owns along with LVMH, is set to release in September. WWD reported that it would comprise 150 styles of ready-to-wear and accessories, and that Philo muse Daria Werbowy would feature in the campaign. But the new brand has not done any press or released a single image. Will it include the big-enough-for-a-laptop leather bags, ultra-thick cashmere sweaters, tailored coats and off-kilter jewelry for which she became known? Maybe. LVMH and Philo did not respond to requests for comment.
While little is known about the new brand, one thing is for certain: Philo’s legion fans are on tenterhooks for what is fashion’s most anticipated launch in recent memory. Phoebe Philo’s Instagram page, with zero posts, already boasts 240,000 followers.
When the brand offered an online registration in July, fashion insiders and A-listers shared screenshots of their confirmation pages to Instagram Stories.
Apparently the first status symbol of the New Philo Era was a somber, black graphic reading: “Thank you for registering. We look forward to being in touch.”
One of the women who shared that screenshot was Eva Chen, Meta’s vice president of fashion partnerships. “It’s very rare to see this level of hype” on Instagram, she said, comparing it to big drops in the sneaker world.
Chen predicted that the discourse would continue once the brand finally launches this fall: “I think it’s going to be one of those Willy Wonka ‘golden ticket’ situations, where everyone’s going to be seeing the brand unfold in real time, sharing acquisitions on [Instagram] Stories, sharing perhaps when they’re foiled on purchasing something.”
“I, along with everyone, am waiting for financial devastation, if I can even land anything,” said Chen.
Budgeting is a central concern for many of those awaiting the launch, with the dollar-sign-with-wings emoji assuming a starring role in many of the posts. Philo’s clothes, whether during her 2001-2006 tenure at Chloé or 2008-2018 period at Celine, have never come cheap. By the time she left, $900 was around the entry point for shoes and simple tops, and most pieces were well into the four figures. I can recall the anxiety of plopping down my Amex to buy my first Celine piece as a junior fashion editor: a royal-blue cashmere sweater at 70% off at Kirna Zabête’s end-of-season sale. (I still wear it to this day.)
Most of the women I spoke to are saving up for the first Philo drop.
Ashley Wu, a New York City writer and longtime Philo acolyte, said, “I’m definitely not buying any fall clothes yet, which is unusual for me this time of year.” She said she was setting aside money to invest in—she hopes—shoes, sweaters, a handbag, a coat and “some sort of beautiful shoe that I’ll be stomping around in.” She said that as she approaches 40, a new effortless Philo wardrobe is perfect timing, as she loves fashion but doesn’t necessarily want to think too much about what she wears.
Wu and Giangola, along with other Philo followers, have plugged their wardrobes with pieces from other, similarly refined brands in the past five years. Both mentioned Mary-Kate and
quiet-luxe brand the Row, and Wu likes rising star Khaite as well.
Tommy Ton, a New York photographer who has extensively chronicled Philo’s fans, said Philo’s place in fashion is unique. He said her return is “like calling up an old friend, someone that brings you a lot of comfort.”
Granted, this frenzy is somewhat limited to a privileged fashion few who are in the know, and attuned to subtle differences in high-end cashmere ply. Ton said, “I think this definitely affects a very small niche group of women.” Then, he said, that core group of trendsetters would influence fast fashion: “You will see it trickle down to the Zaras and Sheins.”
Philo’s legacy has been kept alive in the past five years through a rabid resale market of her past pieces. On secondhand sites like The RealReal and Vestiaire Collective, Philo’s work for Celine and Chloé is still a hot commodity. High-end personal shoppers such as Gab Waller specialize in hunting down her pieces. In 2022, French secondhand platform Resee organized a buzzy sale of Philo’s Celine work.
Philo, who does not have a personal Instagram account, has also captured the imagination of a fervent online community that’s only gotten stronger in her absence. Accounts like @phoebephilofan, @celinearchived, @phoebephilodiary and @oldceline have created a living library of images of Philo’s work.
Chen said, “It’s a sign of true love and fandom when you have people who basically are your fashion archivists on behalf of the actual brand.”
Gabrielle Boucinha, who runs the 392,000-follower-strong account @oldceline, said she was amazed by the range of Philo fans who’ve gravitated toward her page—from Gwyneth Paltrow to a middle-aged man whose only photos feature himself with fish he’d caught. The fisherman had an unexpectedly deep knowledge of Philo’s work, said Boucinha.
The excitement around the brand makes it feel too big to fail, even before the designs have been unveiled. But part of Philo’s allure has always been her anti-influencer exclusivity.
Giangola, who said she owns more than 80 pieces of Celine-era Phoebe Philo, as well as garments from the Chloé period, said she hopes the brand retains that discretion. “I don’t want to spend all this money on Phoebe and then have 10 million other people wearing it,” she said.