INSTAGRAM / PHOEBEPHILODIARY

Feminist fashion designer, Phoebe Philo, has announced her long-awaited return to the fashion industry. In 2022, her own eponymous label will launch. Philo’s many devoted fans, also known as Philophiles, are rejoicing at the news, and what it will mean for the fashion world. At last, a much-needed female voice will return to speak out for women among the industry’s abundance of male designers. As Barneys fashion director, Marina Larroude, expertly formulated, whatever Philo put on the runway “was going to be what the masses were going to see in the next decade.”

Philo’s previous designs have been celebrated because she creates her clothing with the female gaze in mind, fighting against the fashion world’s gender inequality. Although the industry is female-centric, with women making up the majority of its workforce and consumers, it is men who occupy the top positions, and as such, much of the fashion world is governed by the male gaze: only 40% of womenswear brands are designed by women, and a mere 14% of the fifty major fashion brands are run by women.

“For Philo, the act of choosing an outfit can be self-empowering, rather than a means to impress a man”

While women can, of course, wear clothing designed by men and certainly do enjoy wearing it, these clothes are often designed with the male gaze in mind, which clothes an unreal notion of the ideal woman. It dresses a fantasy, rather than a reality, seeing its models as objects to be viewed for its own pleasure.

Philo’s female gaze, however, is about the real woman behind the clothing. Her feminist point of view prioritises the way women feel, by listening to what they want and need, while also considering the functionality and comfort of clothing. Dresses with pockets, heels that can be walked in, comfortable clothes, and styles that flatter the female figure’s natural beauty —without reducing a woman’s body to a commodity to be admired. In the past, Philo has created designs with the modern, realistic woman in mind, bringing a genuine understanding of female consumer needs into the fashion world. For Philo, the act of choosing an outfit can be self-empowering, rather than a means to impress a man. Through the female gaze, women dress for themselves.

INSTAGRAM / PHOEBEPHILOARCHIVE

Therefore, clothing made by women for women is important, and its transcendent power is proven by Philo’s past successes at Chloé and Celine, which both became ‘it’ brands during Philo’s tenures as creative director. At Celine, sales quintupled to over €900 million during the ten years that Philo worked as creative director.

At Chloé, Philo took inspiration from her love of Portobello Market’s vintage designs, creating clothes for young women which she found empowering. She adopted flowery patterns, inspiring colours and layered fabrics, and introduced wide-leg, high-waisted trousers, chunky heels and wedges, flowy baby-doll dresses and leather bags — including the iconic Paddington bag. Her feminine styles were comfortable and easy to wear, departing from the skin-tight mini dresses, low-waists, and slender, but less stable, heels which preceded her. The previous designs oozed with sex appeal, while Philo captured a different side of the female identity.

“It was never only about the clothing. It was about the way the clothes made you feel: timeless, modern, and imbued with a quiet sense of power”

At Celine, a more mature look developed as Philo settled into a new phase in her life and began to design for the adult woman. With a cool, minimal style, Philo created designs which made women feel strong and self-assured. A timeless wardrobe was prioritised above seasonal trends, as pieces were designed to suit every kind of woman. Philo favoured long, loose silhouettes and sleek, powerful styles, which reflected the drive and passion of the women who wore them. Fashionable knitwear, slouchy trousers, oversized camel coats and pleated midi skirts were all popularised during Philo’s reign. Above all, she refused to comply with the patriarchal definitions of femininity that were sought by the male outlook, and instead designed for women themselves, placing female emotions at the heart of her work. As Anna LaPlaca observed in Who What Wear;“It was never only about the clothing. It was about the way the clothes made you feel: timeless, modern, and imbued with a quiet sense of power.”

Since Philo’s departure from Celine at the end of 2017, a significant shift has manifested in the brand’s designs as the male gaze has returned with new creative director, Hedi Slimane. He rebranded Celine entirely, infamously going so far as to remove the accent on the ‘e’, a physical reminder that Philo’s Céline was no more. Not only was the brand stripped of its ‘é’, but also of everything which Philo stood for. The loss of the accent became the loss of an identity.

The symbolic rebranding of Celine without the 'é'INSTAGRAM / OLDPHOEBEPHILO

Slimane’s debut collection reverted back to conventional notions of the hyper-sexualised woman, with short, tight and skinny clothing, with uncomfortable cut-outs that did not consider curvy female bodies, worn by models who were overwhelmingly white and exceedingly slim. At once, critics reacted badly, and unsurprisingly, many of these negative reviews were written by women. Robin Givhan for The Washington Post noted that “Slimane doesn’t seem particularly interested in addressing the mundane issues in a woman’s life.” Slimane’s woman is far less real than Philo’s, and with the loss of her female perspective, the feminist power that once shone through the brand’s designs has been shattered. Women have been left to mourn the loss of the old Céline, which has led to increased searches on sites like eBay for Philo’s old designs, which are increasing in price too, as well as Instagram accounts dedicated to displaying her work.


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Now, feminism and the female gaze are needed more than ever in fashion. There is a power in women designing for other women — which Philo captured during her tenure at Celine, and which she has the power to imbue in her namesake brand. Philo’s refreshing talent speaks to women when it feels like the rest of the fashion world is catered towards the male gaze. For this reason, we eagerly await Philo’s return and the new life she will breathe back into the fashion industry.