If we at Spark know anything, it’s this: fashion isn’t rigid. It ebbs and flows, sometimes disappointing its viewers and, on other occasions, exceeding their every expectation. Therefore, as the ringmasters of this circus, creative directors themselves also mimic the movement of the industry under their control. What does this entail? It means that one day every creative director of a fashion house will hand in their metaphorical keys and the future of the brand will be passed into the hands of a brave new contender. Despite outcries, Raf Simons stepped down as creative director of Dior in late 2015 after a brilliant three-year tenure. In June of this year, it was announced that Tomas Mair would be stepping down as creative director after a seventeen-year run at the helm of Bottega Veneta.
For many, the departure of a designer from a brand feels like a personal attack, especially when the designer’s vision resonates so strongly with the house’s audience. One of the most devastating departures of a creative director as of late has been Phoebe Philo from Céline, or should we say: Celine. Philo was replaced by Hedi Slimane, the previous creative director of Yves Saint Laurent. Almost a year has passed since the news broke that Phoebe Philo would leave Celine, consequently threatening what was thought to be an eternal bond between Philo, the House of Celine, and the women who relied on the designer’s ability to know her consumers down to their very core.
You may be asking yourself why the departure of Phoebe Philo from Celine has stirred so much controversy in the last year. The uproar is not only related to the legendary reign of Philo herself, but also surrounds what Slimane has done with the brand since the transition. Under Philo, the House of Celine was known as THE House for women. It’s almost impossible to talk about Celine without mentioning the designer and her capacity for creating powerful and comfortable clothing that emphasized a minimalist aesthetic for the working woman. Thick sweaters with big sleeves, baggy trousers, flippy midi skirts, structured suits, pastel pleated skirts, checkered raincoats, and the return of Stan Smiths; Philo is arguably responsible for the success and massive consumption of them all. In a world where the most recognizable names in fashion are most often run by men designers, Philo was a savior for the woman who wanted to dress how she lived her life: sophisticated, knowledgeable, and practical. Nothing frivolous about it.
So can you blame the devoted followers of Philo, who saw Céline and the designer as two halves of a whole, for wincing at the drastic changes made by Slimane almost immediately following his appointment? To kick off his reign, Slimane wiped the Celine Instagram clean and removed the beloved accent mark from the brand’s name, an accent mark that was first added by Philo herself. This cutthroat behavior is not new for Slimane, who made the same drastic alteration at his previous Fashion House where he dropped the Yves from Yves Saint Laurent. Next, was the debut of his first Celine collection in September for SS19, for which the response was defiant. In the words of Leandra Medine, founder of the blog Man Repeller, the reaction across the internet could be described as such: this new “Celine. Is. Not. Celine. It’s Saint Laurent. And that customer is already being satisfied.” In an almost complete erasure of the Philo era, the show was a rock and roll extravaganza complete with a new men’s line and leather galore. This collection didn’t exactly speak to what was previously known as the quintessentially Celine look, comfort as an integral part of fashion and self. Instead, it seemed as if we were handed Saint Laurent 2.0.
Apart from the drastic shift in design, followers of the brand were also left to wonder about the future of the fashion house previously designed by an incredibly intuitive woman, now in the hands of a man with a very specific perspective and narrow vision. Morale was running low until late October, when Dakota Johnson became the first celebrity to wear a Slimane Celine design on the red carpet. The sequined red dress piqued interest, as many who acknowledged the magnificence of Philo also saw the Slimane design as fresh, exciting, and different. Of course, there were other onlookers who saw the dress as a great piece but nevertheless, a Saint Laurent dress, definitely not a Celine. But maybe that’s Slimane’s point, Celine is Céline no longer, and despite our protests, he does have a market.
While it’s not expected that Slimane will ever completely fill the gaping hole left by Philo, that isn’t to say he won’t manage to intrigue even the hardest of critics. As for Philo herself, let’s just pray that her currently displaced vision returns to the industry very soon, perhaps in the form of her own brand. •
by Mai Geller
Graphics by Jasmy Liu
Photo Credit: Vogue Magazine
Mai Geller is a sophomore at the University of Texas double majoring in Plan II Honors and Business. She is a member of the Spark Writing Team in addition to Spark Online. In her spare time, you can find her listening to Leandra Medine’s podcast “Monocycle” or stalking the instagram account of John Mulaney’s french bulldog, Petunia.