We recap thrilling new developments in fashion’s “Game of Thrones,” which stars Pharrell Williams and Phoebe Philo
Heidi Klum didn’t mince words in every episode of Project Runway when she spoke of the ruthlessness of the fashion world: “One day you’re in, and the next day you’re out.” Thankfully, today we’re focusing on two very exciting “ins” that have people the world over buzzing—one, a much-awaited comeback for a beloved designer, and the other, a buzzworthy yet somewhat controversial celebrity appointment at one of the world’s top fashion houses.
Pharrell Williams takes the helm at Louis Vuitton menswear
On February 15, Louis Vuitton dropped a bombshell on their Instagram page when they announced their latest appointment: record producer, visionary and all-around creative Pharell Williams would be taking the reins of the label’s menswear line as Creative Director.
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By stepping into this role, Williams would step into the shoes left vacant by the much-revered designer Virgil Abloh, who passed away in 2021.
This isn’t Williams’ first foray into the fashion world. In 2003, he co-founded the streetwear label Billionaire Boys Club with the Japanese fashion designer Nigö, whom he also collaborated with in 2014 for a t-shirt capsule collection with Uniqlo. That same year, he entered a longstanding partnership with adidas, for whom he would design limited-edition sneaker lines every year.
Most notably, Williams served as a muse to Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel’s menswear, appearing in several films and print ads for the brand and even designing a streetwear-inspired mini-capsule collection with the house in 2019.
This wouldn’t even be Williams’ first collaboration with Louis Vuitton. In 2004, he collaborated with the house and Nigö for a sunglasses collection under the name Millionaire and, in 2008, he launched a small jewelry line for the house.
Louis Vuitton’s execs, for one, seem to welcome Williams’ return with open arms. “I am glad to welcome Pharrell back home….as our new Men’s Creative Director,” chairman and CEO Pietro Beccari says in a statement. “His creative vision beyond fashion will undoubtedly lead Louis Vuitton towards a new and very exciting chapter.”
Other fashion insiders expressed their excitement for Williams’ appointment—in fact, former Louis Vuitton creative director Marc Jacobs thought it was a “great plan” and that “he will be amazing, no doubt” in an Instagram comment. But others aren’t too pleased.
Some feel that Williams’ appointment is just another instance of celebrity stunt casting in the fashion industry. From a marketing point of view, Pharell as creative director for Vuitton makes sense—he modernizes the brand and brings it much-needed street cred. But skeptical insiders may have the right to be wary.
While celebrities taking the reins at a fashion house may be a jackpot success story (see: the Olsen twins and their star turn as the grand purveyors of severe minimalist chic at The Row, and Victoria Beckham’s wildly successful eponymous label), oftentimes the stunt casting fails to pay off and even dooms the fashion house to its downfall (see: Sarah Jessica Parker’s failed attempt to revive the Halston label in 2010, and Lindsay Lohan’s disastrous 2009 collection for the now-defunct Ungaro).
Others also feel that Vuitton’s choosing a big-name celebrity like Williams is a slap in the face to other rising designers who were bandied about the role, such as Martine Rose and Grace Wales Bonner. Many dislike Vuitton’s choice of name recognition over hard work and undeniable talent, and decry the fashion industry’s tendency to overlook lesser-known but deserving creatives.
But lest you dismiss him as just another celebrity dilettante, remember this: Williams has a very keen finger on the pulse of streetwear, and possesses an uncanny ability to harness hype and move product. This is, after all, the man whose 2017 adidas sneaker collab with Chanel sold out in seconds. Louis Vuitton’s move indicates that the brand plans to appeal to a broader mass consumer base obsessed with streetwear and drops, and Williams would be the perfect creative director to lead them into this era.
So, Pharell’s tenure at Louis Vuitton: excited or enraged? Let’s hold our final judgment until June, when Williams is due to debut his first menswear collection under the label during Paris Men’s Fashion Week.
Phoebe Philo announces the September launch of her namesake brand
Equally big news: on Instagram, legendary cult-favorite designer Phoebe Philo announced her return to fashion with the launch of her eponymous label.
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Poised to launch in September, the new brand will be backed by Bernaud Arnault’s LVMH conglomerate (alongside storied fashion brands like Louis Vuitton, Dior, Fendi and Givenchy) and will employ a digital-first retail approach on the yet-to-be-launched website phoebephilo.com. This will also be Philo’s first return to fashion since leaving her star-making post as creative director of Celine (or rather, Céline) in 2018.
Naturally, fashion insiders went feral at the news. “We are ready,” exclaims former Lucky editor-in-chief and Instagram director of fashion partnerships Eva Chen. “When [you’re] ready, Phoebes,” comments supermodel Naomi Campbell. And most tellingly, singer Lily Allen makes a promise: “Not buying anything until Sept.”
And it’s no wonder why. The cult of Phoebe Philo runs deep; one only needs to see the Instagram account @oldceline, devoted to chronicling the brand’s tenure under Philo, and its wistfully devoted 394,000 followers. Fashion retrospectives will look back at the 2010s, and declare Philo as not only one of but the definitive designer of the decade.
You have to wonder: why does Phoebe Philo inspire such enduring devotion from her fans? A lot has to do with how she took Celine (then a struggling yet storied French house) and turned it into one of the most covetable labels of the 2010s, reviving it into a brand synonymous with chic minimalism and unadorned sophistication. It wouldn’t be a stretch to claim that Philo was responsible for the decade’s normcore movement. She helped usher in an era of fashion that focused on elevated basics, clean lines and no-frills elegance—as seen not only in her work for Celine, but also in the trickle-down effect to mass retailers like Uniqlo, COS and Harlan & Holden.
This is not to say that Philo’s work for Celine was boring; in fact, far from it! Her tenure at Celine resonates with so many women solely because of how, for the era at least, Philo designed solely for the female gaze. Her designs weren’t girlishly fussy or va-va-voom vixen-ready—they were womanly, created for a self-assured, sophisticated woman with discerning taste and a thoughtful approach to dressing.
She designed for a woman who sought the comfort and quiet elegance of an oversized cashmere cocoon coat, who loved the unexpected quirk of a Pepto-pink bubble dress whose hem dissolved into a cape, who would punctuate a pristine minimalist outfit with either a practical leather block heel that fit like a glove or the playfulness of a furry yellow stiletto. She made clothes for chic women who had no one else to impress but themselves.
And we haven’t even talked about the bags. The bags! Phoebe Philo knew how to design an It Bag that would instantly fly off shelves. Even as far back as 2005, at the helm of Chloé, her Paddington bag was an icon of Y2K trendiness, selling out in seconds and spotted on trendsetters such as Mischa Barton and Sienna Miller. For Celine alone, there was the Luggage tote, the Phantom, the Trapeze, the Box bag and the Trio—all classic bag designs that still hold up as classics to the present day.
So, what should we expect from Phoebe Philo’s fashion comeback this September? We predict a return to clean lines and elegant basics, but with a few more dramatic touches appropriate for the more exuberant 2020s. We expect bold accessories for the woman who knows how to wield weird and make it look elegant. And of course, a bestselling It Bag (or ten). BRB, setting our alarms to ring in the next seven months!
Words Jer Capacillo
Art Matthew Ian Fetalver