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Phoebe Philo’s First Collection: A Review

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Almost six years after leaving Celine, the brand she transformed into one of the most influential fashion lines in the world, and a little more than two years after revealing that, wait — she was actually coming back, and under her own name, Phoebe Philo the messiah (sorry, designer) has finally returned to fashion with Phoebe Philo the brand. Can you hear the hosannas? Her first namesake collection is possibly the most hyped, most anticipated, most gossiped-about new line from a formerly beloved name … well, ever.

Despite a decision not to stage a show or create any advertising, the collection was never going to sneak in under the radar. Ms. Philo, whose transformation of both Celine and Chloé before that had gained her an obsessive following of Philophiles, was too mythic for secrecy. Could it possibly live up to expectations?

Short answer: Yes, it is very good. Will it radically change fashion? No, but it just may nudge it along.

The introductory collection, officially called A1, offers the kind of adult clothes that suggest a woman gets to decide for herself how she is seen. It puts forward a clear proposition for how to dress after the mess of trying to figure it all out after the pandemic, when the anticipated Roaring Twenties turned into the Recessionary Twenties and return to office became an employment battleground. The owner of these clothes takes no guff from anyone. Wearing them would make you feel briskly prepared to go out and get stuff done, while allowing a degree of secret deviance.

High-waist wool trousers come with a zipper up the back from hem to iliac bones that functions as both a seam and a provocation. Will anybody unzip them all the way? Wouldn’t you like to try it and see? A pendant necklace dangles a bronze bauble that houses a toothpick that can be used for dental hygiene and self-defense. A fuzzy ivory coat resembles a wearable shag rug.

Indeed, the only decoration in the first collection, aside from the occasional epaulet, is that hand-embroidered viscose twill shag, which also appears on the front of pants and in the trim of a black-tie miniskirt with tails on either side that puddle on the floor like a hairy train. It’s kind of wear-what-you-kill. And weirdly hard to resist. First you think, “Really?” Then you think, “Hmm …”

Aside from that, the line is built on basics — a great twill trench, a cashmere overcoat with a double vent at the back, a louche pantsuit. One asymmetric top in heavy, white stretch-silk-satin looks as if you have just flung a scarf around your neck and gone out the door, but comes with a built-in bodysuit for practicality. With a pair of black cigarette pants, it would solve pretty much any formal dressing problem that might arise.

Accessories include studded belts and some cool squishy leather bags. Actually, a fair amount of leather has been sprinkled throughout the collection in the form of bomber jackets and coat dresses with a deep vee framing the spine. Square-toed loafers with the corners rounded off in a variety of heel heights. There are no visible logos on anything, but there are a lot of muted colors, punctuated by a lipstick red.

It’s pretty clear from the clothes that radical change was never the guiding principle. Ms. Philo has already been there, done that. She’s after something else.

As to what, she’s not exactly saying. (She declined all interview requests in advance of the release.) But along with the collection came a mission statement of sorts: “Our aim is to create a product that reflects permanence. The Phoebe Philo business model is designed to create a responsible balance between production and demand. For us, this means producing notably less than anticipated want.”

She’s not trying to build a world-straddling brand; she’s trying to nurture a following.

Think of the line as Supreme meets Loro Piana: limited and unpredictable drops — she calls them “edits” — used to create desire and a sense of consumer urgency but applied to luxury pieces (they are very expensive) meant to be acquired over time. The images on the website feature a variety of models, including her longtime collaborator Daria Werbowy as well as an older woman and a man, all of whom were photographed without makeup. This is not about fashion fantasy. It’s about fashion reality.

At a certain point, most women stop wanting to upend their wardrobes each season, and instead seek to add nuance: a piece here, an accessory there. Ms. Philo, who was always her own best model and understood that no matter how multitasking and practical a woman seems on the surface, she may harbor her own twisty desires, seems to have reached that life stage. Maybe her customer has, too. At least the limited number who can afford it.

Phoebe Philo the brand will be sold, at least for the foreseeable future, only via her website, meaning shoppers will not be able to try on clothes, though returns will be prepaid and allowed within two weeks. Seasonless collections will be released in tranches, on no set schedule.

While anyone can shop, those who have preregistered will receive alerts when collections go live, so they can access them first. People will not have to sign up for a time slot to shop (as one rumor had it), but purchases are limited: one of each style per customer, though different sizes of the same style can be bought.

The first edit comprises about 150 pieces and will appear in three sections between now and the end of the year. A2 will follow at an unspecified time in spring 2024. The line ranges in size from XS to XL. Prices start at $450 for goggle-like sunglasses and go up to $25,000 for a shearling coat with fluted sleeves. (The Flokati-like coat, which is hand-embroidered, will cost even more and is made to order.) Jackets average about $4,000 and bags, $5,000.

Whether the limited nature of the offering will prompt the sort of secondary-market exploitation (or bot invasion) inspired by Telfar drops and Beyoncé tickets — whether that is actually part of the calculus, since it creates an aura of desirability and frenzied acquisition, of extreme insiderness, that can propel a brand into the viral stratosphere — will be tested this week. Rarity is its own kind of chic.

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