Founded in 1945 by Céline and Richard Vipiana, the brand started out as a high-end, made-to-measure children’s shoe line. Praised by an abundance of elite clientèle for their meticulous detailing, the couple expanded their business with the creation of the Barrette Moccasin. Post-war, Madame Céline set about craving a place for herself in the fashion world and the line diversified into small leather goods, accessories and women’s shoes, though it wasn’t until the 1960s that the brand’s first prêt-à-porter collection debuted. In 1997, Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton (LVMH), a luxury goods conglomerate, bought the company leading to its worldwide expansion.
In 1997, LVMH announced the appointment of the American designer Michael Kors as the new Creative Director, and he set about asserting himself as one of the finest craftsmen of the decade with the rare ability of updating the classics to fit with the times and still maintain the brand’s emphasis on discreet luxury. Post-Michael Kors, few designers have been able to meet the expectations of both the fashion critics and the LVMH board, which is why this month’s rumours that Phoebe Philo, the incumbent Creative Director, could be leaving the brand to replace Marc Jacobs at Louis Vuitton (should he take over the troubled Givenchy) are particularly troubling.
Phoebe Philo started her career as fellow superstar designer Stella McCartney’s design assistant at Chloé, a French fashion house, after graduating from London’s famous Central Saint Martin’s College of Art and Design. Following Stella’s departure, Phoebe took over as Creative Director for five years, continuing the British reign. Citing a need to focus on her young family, Philo parted ways with the company. Less than two years later, it was announced that she’d signed up for what would be a star role at Céline. So impressed with her work, LVMH moved the Céline headquarters from Paris to London, to accommodate her needs.
Philo’s work at Céline has been associated with changing the state of fashion by introducing a sleek minimal aesthetic, much to the praise of the industry’s toughest critics and consumers, who appreciate the quiet confidence her designs embody. The underlying narrative in the Céline collections seems to be both French heritage and ease of wearing: simple, well-cut pieces with accessories which embody all that is Céline. Like Philo herself, the brand is understated. This is not a look-at-me designer and, as is evident from her own style, Céline is designed for today’s woman. On the contrary, Philo seems intent in keeping the focus off her private life and focused on the work she and her design team do, as was obvious from her first advertising campaign for the fashion house, featuring models shown from neck down to ‘make the product the star’. Under her tenure at Céline, there have been no celebrity models or brand ‘ambassador’, as is popular with most other fashion houses.
With the possible creative changes and the stunning new boutique on the Rive Gauche’s Rue de Grenelle, a haven for luxury brands, all eyes are on Céline’s next move.
Céline, 16 rue de Grenelle, 75007 Paris. Tel. +33 (0) 1 55 80 14 99. Website.