Only Phoebe Philo could cause an intake of the fashion industry's breath with the way she placed a white button on a black coat. The first looks on Céline's catwalk today featured sleek, thirties-styled tailoring, and double-breasted closings gone surreally askew. The thirties were on Philo's mind when she was first thinking about the collection, especially women like Hannah Höch and Lee Miller, who were pivotal figures in the Dada and surrealist art worlds. In fact, it was a photo of Miller in the bath in Hitler's Munich apartment after the fall of the Nazis—travel-stained boots parked by the tub, fatigues folded on a chair—which was Philo's starting point. "These women were doing things which were quite radical at the time, like wearing men's clothes, but which today seem quite normal," she said. "I very much wanted women in men's clothes, but it was a complex idea so we brought it back to a quite feminine silhouette."
Despite the masculine elements in the collection—the oversize, man-styled trousers, for one—Philo's preferred emphasis was the tenderness of the clothes. "I wanted them to feel touched by human hands," she explained. "The way I approached them was very from-the-gut. When I was engaging too much in thought, it felt jarring. When I was in a fitting, I'd just get my hands on the clothes and feel a very instant relationship." That primal-sounding connection translated into pieces that Philo insisted were very much crafted by hand rather than manufactured. They were as sensual as the tweed knits that pooled extravagantly over platform sandals, as textured as the hazy animal prints. Philo underscored the importance of nature with the lush greenery that sprouted along the catwalk. She imagined her woman running through fields, "wild, tender, strong." The clothes themselves often felt bursting with life, with seams feathering and fraying. The earrings, strung together from found objects, offered another clue. "Much of the collection was put together like that," said Philo. "Like a collage."
The immediacy, the spontaneity, the sensuality of such an idea certainly connected with the audience today, as it will undoubtedly relate to women when the clothes hit stores come fall. Philo has turned herself into the conduit for a million dreams of self-realization. But there may be something more subliminal, even stronger, powering her vision. Hannah Höch and Lee Miller worked in the particularly chauvinistic world of art, and their gender was held against them, leading to professional disappointment and personal frustration. The subtle fierceness of the Céline collection today could be read as Philo's response to the environment in which she works, where, as she pointed out, she is still a woman in a world of men.