Is Phoebe Philo leaving Céline? It’s a question that has twitched the skirts of the industry ever since it was reported, last month, that the designer might soon be departing from the house she joined as creative director and board member in 2008. But talk is cheap, and in the tiny, hermetically sealed world of fashion, the front row can quickly turn garden fence when it comes to speculative fabulation. Her spokespeople are saying nothing.
And just as well. Gossip can be a dangerous thing, especially where million-dollar contract renewals are under assessment and private lives unknown. The poison of a rumour can seep deep into the fashion psyche without even a scrap of evidence. For instance, I was told with total authority this week about the identity of the incoming designer at Balenciaga, following Alexander Wang’s exit last Friday night. Trouble is, I was told two names. Further enquiries were scotched by those designers’ respective spokespeople. And while I suspect one is still very much in contention, I’ll have to sit on it. Fashion is a fantasy, but some fabrications require cold, hard, facts.
No cold, hard facts at Céline, simply a beautiful SS16 collection, based on a clean palette of black and white and set amid a sand-floored tentscape with a live soundtrack co-designed by the Danish artist FOS, who has also collaborated with Philo on furnishings in the Céline stores. “I wanted to put her feet in the sand,” said Philo, backstage, of her woman. “I wanted to put her in different environments. To take her out of the urban setting, and find the clothes that worked in different places. I wanted it to be charming.”
Now 41 years old, Philo had approached the collection by asking “what she wanted to put on her body”. It may sound a trifle esoteric, but surely such questions are part of the emotional dialogue we have with ourselves in front of the wardrobe every day: Philo is no different. “Do I feel empowered, vulnerable, relaxed, confident?” she explained.
These are all questions that become increasingly fraught as one gets older, when one’s physical vulnerabilities are less casually worn and clothes might have to work a bit harder. Philo’s new shapely silhouette — nipped at the waist, and often worn with a volume shoulder — was both feminine and structurally rigorous: a suit of armour that added substance without overwhelming the look. But this was one of three or four shapes Philo had explored. Others were softer, and more fluid; wholesome, linen-viscose dresses that scrunched up to the elbow and fell in papery folds to the knee, and silky gowns in pale nudes that clung to the torso like a leotard and fell in pleats from a high waist. Very clingy, and not for the faint-hearted.
In a collection of “many, many materials”, according to Philo, contrast fabrics were used as counterpoints (much like SS16 Dior, where cotton voile and organza were paired with suiting and heavy sweaters) and the looks combined delicacy and duty. Lingerie dresses, in a pleat knit with plunging lace trims, were empowered with thick-soled bovver boots and a bold red lip.
A strappy vest top was worn with dense brown tartan trousers. A leathery tunic with a band of jersey knit on the waist and an asymmetric hem was thrown over a thin T-dress in sky blue. After so much unravelling last season, this time around Philo’s looks were very put together. However fragile she might have seemed, there was no chance of this Céline woman becoming undone. “Well,” said Philo of her bold sandwomen. “I always want my women to look strong.”
For more reports from the shows, go to our fashion weeks page on FT.com