Cultural: News, Travel & Trendsetters

There’s (Still) Something About Phoebe


A sale in Paris brought out the “Old Celine” followers, even as their leader, Phoebe Philo, sat out another fashion week.

The model Paloma Elsesser shopped the vintage Céline sale during Paris Fashion Week.
Credit…Hugues Laurent for The New York Times

Jessica Testa

PARIS — Phoebe Philo was supposed to be back by now. Or so her acolytes hoped. In June 2021, the designer announced her return to fashion, through her own new line, three years after stepping down as creative director of the French luxury house Céline.

Since then, the fashion press and her superfans — two groups that aren’t entirely distinct — have wondered: Is this the season that she’ll finally come back? That she’ll bring her vision of smart, grown-up, not overly feminine femininity to scatter like bread crumbs on a city sidewalk for the famished pigeons of fashion? They’ll coo in between shows, or in DMs on Instagram: “What have you heard?”

But Phoebe, as Ms. Philo is referred to (she may as well drop her last name), did not make her comeback during the 2022 seasons.

That didn’t stop her enthusiasts from enthusing. For four days during Paris Fashion Week, in a showroom near the Arc de Triomphe, the online luxury resale company Re-See hosted a sale of about 200 pieces from Ms. Philo’s every-girl-wants-to-be-her tenure at Céline.

On, Phoebe-era Céline is one of the top-three selling labels, behind only Chanel and Hermès, according to the company. Sabrina Marshall, a founder, said that Ms. Philo “really thought about the woman first and the design second. Sometimes designers forget about the woman.”


Credit…Hugues Laurent for The New York Times


Credit…Hugues Laurent for The New York Times

Sofia Bernardin, Ms. Marshall’s co-founder, said she found a new perspective on Ms. Philo while assembling the sale, which will continue online on Oct. 9 with additional pieces. “I never equated her pieces with being sensual,” Ms. Bernardin said, gesturing to the racks of cotton khakis, printed silks and rich leathers and furs. “I always really equated them with being able to adapt to the working woman who’s on the go. But when I saw this all together, I felt something very sensual.”

Martina Lohoff, the creator of Old Céline Archive, an Instagram account that spotlights and sells pieces from that era, helped host the sale with Re-See.

To Ms. Lohoff, a college instructor who lives in Dortmund, Germany, and has been collecting Céline since 2013, Ms. Philo “represents for me how I would like to feel as a woman — comfortable with myself.” She shipped more than 100 items from her archive to Re-See for the Paris sale, though she still has another 100 at home.

The sale attracted editors, including from AnOther magazine and The Wall Street Journal; the designers of Botter and Bevza; models like Paloma Elsesser; and stylists like Carlo Nazario.

The inventory included pieces from each of Ms. Philo’s years at Céline, from the sleek utilitarian neutrals of spring 2010 to her quirkier, more playful designs of 2018. Most of the clothing was priced between 500 and 2,500 euros (roughly the same in American dollars), with outliers like a mink coat priced at 12,000 euros. Many pieces were basically unworn, like a pair of gold drop earrings with metal balls worn by Michelle Obama in 2016 for a T magazine cover, still in their box; they sold for 590 euros on the sale’s first day.


Credit…Hugues Laurent for The New York Times

Some Phoebephiles said that when these items were originally in stores, they couldn’t afford them. Now they’ve reached points in their lives and careers in which they can spend, say, 1,900 euros for a piece of (very) recent fashion history, like a fringe-y black knit skirt with a high slit from 2015.

That was one of two skirts bought by Jessica Willis, the style director of The Cut. The other was a pleated white skirt with abstract painterly strokes and smudges, from the spring 2014 collection. “I was freelance and broke when it originally came out,” Ms. Willis said. “And it’s lived in my head ever since.” (Also, because it was “too chic to walk away from,” she bought a white mink clutch. “I was naughty,” she texted.)

The fervor is enough to make one wonder how, exactly, Ms. Philo managed to simultaneously become a deity of woman’s fashion without being a household name. It’s all in the “je ne sais quoi,” suggested Alexis Novak of Tab Vintage in Los Angeles, a collector who couldn’t make it to the sale. “Phoebe pieces allow me to wear something unexpected without peacocking. It’s like a little wink, a little IYKYK look,” she said, using an abbreviation for “if you know, you know.”

Lynette Nylander, the executive editorial director of Dazed, may have “freaked out a bit” about the price of the tasseled black dress she bought at the Paris sale. But she said she “felt great” about the broader idea of what she was buying into.

“She was somebody who has walked in our shoes,” she said.

“The reason Phoebe’s Céline endures is it’s made for women with a woman’s point of view,” Ms. Nylander said. “And I mean that down to the most finite detail: how wide her armholes are, the fact that she always paired things with trainers. This is someone who’s not living a curb-to-cab lifestyle. I’m on the subway, I’m sweating, but I still want to evoke some sense of fantasy. Phoebe was the master of doing that.”


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