For the first time ever I attended the Vogue festival this year, mainly to see it for myself but also because Phoebe Philo was speaking. I attended the talk, Phoebe in conversation with Alexandra Shulman, and below are my favourite notes from the hour. (N.B. As I was furiously scribbling a lot of these are in note-form/paraphrased.)
P: Céline didn’t have a historical designer. It was liberating, I could do what I wanted to do. What it did stand for was quality. I never looked at the archives.
A: Did you talk to a lot of people, friends, about what was missing in fashion? Because Céline has added to the offering out there.
P: I didn’t look around, it came from within. It’s what I really believe. I don’t put it out there unless I stand behind it.
A: Can you define the things you believe in? It seems you really feel pained by compromise?
P: I find mediocrity hard. I am a passionate person. I believe I give it a lot, so if it’s not good what’s the point?
Talking about the new Céline flagship store on Mount Street:
P: I think [the stores] should stand for something. I just wanted it to be strong. There are lots of shops around that are quite bland. I wanted to do something different and new. I worked with FOS, an artist on the interior. A completely absurd, wonderful guy. Very into function. He knew nothing about luxury goods.
A: What attracted you to fashion?
P: It was a bit of a calling. I feel somehow it was always in me. Using clothes to say something. When I was little I was very clear about what I wanted to wear. My mother dressed me in good, tasteful clothes and I wanted to wear things that were a bit sparkly, spangly and trashy.
A: How do you feel about being copied?
P: Mostly it’s flattering and exciting. Coco Chanel said ‘so long as you’re copied you’re relevant.’ Occasionally it’s too close to the bone but the details, the fabrics, the craftsmanship is hard to copy.
A: How much do you feel you personally have to exemplify the brand?
P: I don’t really think about it. I don’t find it useful to me getting on with what I do to think about it. I just do what I do.
A: You’ve said you dislike the cult of the designer. You’re always in strong control of your image.
P: I’ve just done what I was comfortable doing. I have an innate fear of fame. It doesn’t look like a good place to be. I like being incognito, I value that freedom.
A: Women aren’t usually at the top, running businesses. Do you think it would be different if they did?
P: I don’t think gender is relevant. I see men struggling as much as women within fashion. I think it’s more to do with individuals, personality. It’s a high pressure job. The bigger question is why aren’t there more women generally running companies? It should change. It is changing.
A: Would it make working practices different if women were running them?
P: Not particularly, I don’t see it like that. We should spend more time just getting on with it, not talking about the difference. But – somehow, somewhere girls are getting the message that they’re not good enough. I think clothes can make a political statement. When you wear Céline you should feel confident and strong. We should be teaching young girls to feel good. I don’t think young boys necessarily feel good either, maybe it’s our culture.. But there are so many more men in powerful positions. I think it’s motherhood. There’s a breaking point where people have left to bring up children and when they come back they miss the stage at which they would have gone right up. For the average person I think it’s very complicated. I’m very privileged and fortunate. It’s tough.
On the fashion industry’s unrealistic perspective on women’s bodies.
P: It’s complex. It’s good to talk about it. It’s unrealistic to think the fashion/film/sex industries won’t have an extreme ideal of beauty as a way of selling themselves. Let’s talk about it though. I don’t have the answers. I really do believe anybody can be seductive and sexy and gorgeous and beautiful. We use an extreme idea of beauty as a way of showing Céline but I don’t believe it should be like that outside of the show.
A: The role of the show? The point?
P: It’s a concentrated way of getting the message across. They last 8 minutes. Our moment. Everyone stops talking, they listen and watch. Been very happy showing in that format but Rick Owens’ show [with the dancers] got me thinking I’ve got to think about another format sometime.
A: But there’s still that moment.
P: It’s that created environment. Every detail of that is yours. Some sense of live performance. I’m moved by it. It takes effort.
Question from the audience: How did you decide what to wear to collect your MBE?
P: I just did it. I went with my family. They were all very proud of me, it was a wonderful moment. I just did it. I just got dressed that morning.
Question from the audience: What element of clothes do you think are emancipating for women?
P: Women should have choices. I’m not a fan of women being sexualised through clothes. As long as she’s chosen to wear it, it’s different. You should dress for yourself. Don’t dress for other people. There are too many images of women that are sexualised. It’s disempowering. I would prefer if we didn’t behave like that.
Question from the audience: Why haven’t you got your own company? The ‘Phoebe Philo’ brand?
P: It hasn’t happened so far. Maybe it will. I feel very fortunate so far.
Question from the audience: Any ambitions you would still like to fulfil?
P: I would like to create a foundation while at Céline helping people on some level. I’d like to spend some time working with less fortunate people than myself.
Question from the audience: Why don’t you sell Céline online?
P: I strongly believe you should experience Céline clothes, ultimately in the Céline store. Get a sense of the store, the materials, the world the clothes are set in. Or you go to a department store. But there you can still touch them, feel them, see how they’re constructed, look at the lining.. I feel that that process of buying clothes is important.