It’s been over two weeks since designer Phoebe Philo relaunched herself back into the fashion stratosphere with a namesake label that industry insiders and #OldCeline super fans were gagged over. Gagged is an understatement, actually—the reviews, the recaps, and the social media reactions were enthralled, enraptured even. As stylist Elissa Santisi put it when we spoke about her Phoebe Philo purchases over the phone, “If you’re a fashion person, it was a cultural event.”
Phoebe Philo Ltd., which received investment from LVMH, is direct-to-consumer only and will launch more drops early next year. The prices for the ready-to-wear, outerwear, bags, shoes, and jewelry are extremely not cheap–they start around $750 for a pair of shield sunglasses and go up to $16k for a double-breasted shearling coat. That hasn’t stopped people from shopping: At the moment, the tightly edited offering is basically sold out, save for a couple of the accessories and the pieces marked “price upon request.”
With no runway show or physical store space, the world—minus a select number of fashion journalists invited to preview Philo’s first drop—has only been able to see the collection virtually. Until now. Last week, the goods started to arrive to shoppers, and I spoke to several of them to find out exactly what the retail experience has been like.
The pieces were sent via DHL shipping, which, by and large, seems to have been pretty efficient. Santisi noted that the packaging befits the high quality and luxury price-point of the product, with soft logo-printed tissue paper and sturdy, thick white boxes. Across the social media landscape, fans have admired the new brand’s fierce, blood-red logo (one friend of mine approvingly called it “cunty”) and this seems to have carried through to the packaging. Stylist Julie Ragolia pointed out in a post to her X feed that her Phoebe Philo box came with a sticker in the same crimson hue, although it was entirely plain, sans logo. ”Phoebe has created Supreme for the adult female set,” she wrote.
Publicist Lissy Von Schwarzkopf, who is a long-time Philophile, was hyped to receive her package. She purchased the black embroidered trousers and also received the gold “Mum” necklace as an early holiday gift from her husband. The trousers “fit perfectly,” and overall she was incredibly happy with her purchases, which were “a delight to unbox.”
On TikTok, some have shared their unboxing videos, giving a rarified, up-close-and-personal look at the collection’s finer details. Content creator Anouk Yve showed off her calf-hair and leather Cabas bag with a positive review and had some interesting commentary around the unstructured design and lack of hardware on the bottom of the bag, meaning that there’s nothing protecting the leather from whatever surface it gets plopped onto. Though overall, her review was positive: “Nothing to complain about,” she said. “It’s a really luxurious bag which I truly love and will cherish for the rest of my life.” Not Puck’s Lauren Sherman: she sold her Gig bag to a friend, as noted in her Line Sheet newsletter earlier this week (she kept her cotton poplin shirt).
Von Schwarzkopf, too, noted some small downsides, although she was overall thrilled with her experience. She described the online ordering process as “hectic, since there was so much incredible hype and demand,” adding, “I set a reminder and went on the website as soon as I could. Sadly, the site crashed a couple of times while I was trying to check out, so I had to reload my basket, and a couple of pieces I had my eye on—like the red square-toe ankle boots and asymmetric tailored top—sold out immediately.”
Others have noted that the two-week return policy is complicated. There is a portal where customers are asked to upload photos of the items they want to send back, including multiple angles of garments and the soles of any shoes.
The important thing to remember is that this is Phoebe Philo doing whatever the hell she wants to do, and there’s a lot of power in that. But is it a bit much to ask a customer, even one with the means to buy luxury fashion, to invest at such a high price point when you can’t see, feel, or try on any of the merchandise? And furthermore, will people want to come back when the second drop hits early next year?
Well, yes. The die-hards don’t seem to care much about the policies or any ordering and delivery hiccups, and that’s the magic. Santisi, who purchased a pair of black square-toe pumps and a black rib-knit sweater, believes that “women trust Phoebe. It’s the return of cool. They’re clothes that inspire, and that you can actually wear.”
It’s true. Philo has always been a woman designing for other women, and she’s done so without compromise, even when she was at the helm of conglomerate-owned luxury fashion houses. Her impact on the way we all have dressed over the last two decades is monumental. She created a roadmap for a sophisticated, modern aesthetic built for intelligent, working women of a certain age—women who had inherent style and effortlessness that was at once chic but also irreverent and subversively sensual.
I won’t keep waxing poetic about the wardrobe Philo originated because, frankly, her influence is pretty obvious everywhere you look on the runways and in the real world. You see her clean lines, easy silhouettes, and wildly cool styling knocked off to abandon across fast-fashion stores. In New York, London, and Paris, you see gallerists, CEOs, founders, and creatives strolling confidently down the street in a pair of giant sunglasses, sneakers, and silk pants, a slightly deconstructed or printed tee or jumper tucked halfway at the waist. As editor and consultant Sarah Leon, who has always been a dedicated but not fervent Phoebe Philo fan, pointed out, “A lot of designers are now doing what she started. She’s evolved, but they all caught up.”
And now she’s back. While Philo’s new collection might not be all that fresh in terms of design point-of-view, it definitely feels novel because her absence was so deeply felt, especially now, during a time of heightened discourse around the lack of female representation at the top levels of luxury fashion. The newness is not necessarily in the fit or the construction or the Philo house codes, but rather, in the idea that this brand, from top to bottom, is wholly hers.
SSENSE’s Head of Digital Content Steff Yotka put it well: “Despite Phoebe’s popularity, one thing that I’ve always enjoyed is that she doesn’t try to be everything to everyone.” She added, “Her aesthetic is her own—it’s about what she likes at a certain moment in her life.” For now, it’s about accentuating curves, being a “mum” (see her gold necklaces and bracelets), carrying a $8K bag with a naked bottom that you don’t care about scuffing on some concrete, and maybe unzipping the back of your pants to show as much or as little skin as you want. (Santisi, for one, thinks these pants will be “influential”). Yotka compares Philo’s new brand to “the first-person Substack newsletter you love to read, a curation of items that—even if the products don’t appeal to you—you want to understand the vision or the impetus behind designing them.”
In 2023, Philo’s vision is sexier, edgier, more “zero fucks given” than effortlessly cool. For writer Liana Satenstein, who was admittedly not a Philo fanatic (or even a fan), the new pieces from Philo were strong because they had a “hear-me-roar kind of presence, which came through in the dramatic silhouettes, bitchy cinched waists, fringed skirts with jagged thigh-high slits. It felt riskier yet more secure.”
People will continue to critique the prices and the process of the Phoebe Philo collection, but I keep thinking: How punk is it for one of a dismally low number of female designers at the top to just do the most with her SKUs? These are her clothes and these are her high standards under her own name, and both exist in a fashion market that is already run by men and raising prices on luxury goods across the board.
What Philo could have done, however, and what would have been more radical, would be to offer democratic sizing. Currently, the range goes up to a size 12 US. If the brand imagery shows a diverse group of women of varying ages, then shouldn’t that inclusivity extend to body shapes?
But hey, maybe that will change. That’s the thing about this second coming of Phoebe Philo: it’s only the beginning. When we can start to see beyond the initial hype, that’s when things will get really interesting. There will be plenty more to unbox, physically and philosophically, as more collection drops roll out. Critics will continue to complain about the prices and the approach, and fans will continue to wait with bated breath. Love it or hate it, though, this is really about a woman controlling her own narrative. In this new Phoebe Philo-verse, it’s her world and hers alone—we’re all just dressing in it.
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