Since the British designer stepped down as the creative director of Céline in 2018, many loyal fans who swear by her sophisticated and minimal aesthetic have been in disarray. Philophiles, as those intellectual and independent women call themselves, mourned what had seemed like the retirement of their sartorial saviour. They also combed through countless fashion labels, desperately seeking a viable alternative to Philo’s Céline. (They certainly wouldn’t see one in Celine, now helmed by the irreverent, youth-obsessed Hedi Slimane.)
Several names have been offered up: the Olsen twins, whose luxurious, pared-back designs for The Row are in line with Philo’s; Daniel Lee, whose collections for Bottega Veneta are heavily informed by his experience as old Céline’s design director; and newcomer Peter Do, also a Céine alum, and whose impeccable tailoring speaks promisingly of the young New York designer.
If, however, Philophiles aren’t swayed by the sun-soaked sexiness of Bottega Veneta or the restrained femininity of Do’s offerings, they should definitely turn to Beckham. Yes, the fashion designer wife to football star David Beckham, who sat front row along with the rest of their family to see Victoria’s Fall/Winter 2020 collection.
As it happens, the collection was one of the standouts of London Fashion Week. While Beckham has shown tasteful, if not predictable designs for the career woman in her previous collections, this season she ventured into unexpected territory.
Beckham’s signature mid-calf skirts were trimmed to reach the knees — very un-Céline, yes, but the way they were paired with turtleneck knit sweaters and overcoats borrowed from menswear resonated with Philo’s brand of easy, androgynous chic. You could also imagine a woman like Beckham effortlessly throwing together an ensemble like that before heading out to work, yet looking every bit the smart, empowered career woman she is.
“I’m a minimalist, so I’m always looking for ways to make clothes that are exciting but still wearable,” shared Beckham to the press backstage at her show, echoing Philo’s own design philosophy. “Clothes shouldn’t make life difficult.”
They also shouldn’t make life boring. One thing that made Céline stand out was that its clothes had just a trace of edginess to them, something to lend an element of surprise to an otherwise basic garment. Philo had her art obsessions, so you would find details like Yves Klein prints on a dress. Other times, she experimented with fabric, such as when she introduced perfectly cut leather T-shirts to the runway for her Céline debut.
Beckham had a few tricks of her own. A couple of the aforementioned knit sweaters featured diamond cutouts on the front, or were slashed at the elbows. Her evening dresses had unexpectedly scalloped necklines and were cinched with belts, whose metal buckles resembled hands.
And while Beckham nodded to her English heritage — see the checked, high-neck blouses and tweed culottes — that didn’t mean the collection was all prim and proper. She injected a dose of cerebral sex appeal a la Philo with plunging yet elegant necklines, sensual slip dresses and bold, over-the-knee leather boots (a rising trend for the F/W 2020 season, but also a longtime Philophile-favourite accessory).
The genius of Phoebe Philo lies not so much in her actual designs for Céline than in the new ideas about style that she proposed to the mainstream: yes, an outfit can be both modest yet sexy; subtle yet significant, and most radically, irresistibly stylish yet practical. And with her new collection, it’s clear that Victoria is fast following in the footsteps of her fellow British designer.