When Stella McCartney departed Chloé in 2001 to set up her own label, the brand’s then-president Ralph Toledano picked McCartney’s longtime assistant Phoebe Philo to take over the design mantle. The new recruit had been immersed in the brand for the past four years.
At the time, Toledano said that Philo “represents what the Chloé customer is about today. Phoebe has, together with Stella, created the new image of Chloé. For me, it was vital to continue on that trend, which has been behind the revival of the brand name. I’m pretty sure that women will easily identify themselves with Phoebe.”
But while McCartney’s collections for Chloé often had an edgy, rock ’n’ roll feel, when Philo made her debut she mined a softer, feminine aesthetic.
“I think people expect sexy jeans and T-shirts from Chloé,” Philo told WWD in an interview ahead of her debut for the label’s spring 2002 collection. “But I’m quite self-assured. I feel I don’t need to show a lot to look sexy. Maybe I’m more casual, as well. Chloé will remain sexy, but in a more self-assured way.”
Her hit collections worked in influences such as Seventies fashion shoots, Sixties silhouettes and Victorian military garb, which Philo channeled into covetable yet accessible designs that sold quickly and were routinely copied by the high street.
In 2005, Johann Rupert, then-chairman of Chloé’s parent company Richemont (he’s now executive chairman and chief executive officer), said that the Chloé business had “outperformed its peers,” and noted that the label was rolling out an international retail expansion program.
For the same fiscal year, sales at Richemont’s other business division, of which Chloé is part, rose 50 percent. Among Philo’s achievements at the brand was introducing the Paddington bag, a slouchy leather handbag with a heavy padlock detail that became a major hit and one of the first “It” bags. The bag also gave Chloé an entrée into the lucrative leather goods business, which McCartney had shunned, owing to her staunch position on animal rights. In 2006, market sources estimated that the Chloé brand generated wholesale volume of $300 million.
But in early 2006, Philo announced that she was resigning from the label “for personal reasons,” noting that she wanted to spend more time with her new baby, Maya. Sources also suggested that Philo was, at the time, uncomfortable with the experience of working at a large luxury brand, and the publicity it brought.
After a few months during which a design team, including Yvan Mispelaere, helmed Chloé’s collections, in October 2006, Chloé appointed Paulo Melim Andersson, previously design director at Marni, as its new chief designer. The Swedish designer told WWD ahead of his first collection for the label in early 2007 that, for him, the Chloé label was about “effortless confidence [and] youthful nonchalance.”
“Chloé has a great age because it should always be young, with the attitude of a teenager,” he said, adding that he wanted his take on the label to be “a bit edgy.”
But that philosophy didn’t sit so well with the label’s customers. Chloé’s sales in final quarter of 2007 — coinciding with the retail launch of Andersson’s first collection — rose just 9 percent.
Soon after, Andersson left his position, and Hannah MacGibbon, a former member of Chloé’s design team under Philo, was named creative director. The change came ahead of Richemont announcing that for the fiscal year to March 2008, after the spell of runaway growth under Philo, Chloé’s sales were merely “in line” with the previous 12 months.
“It’s not unusual at a fashion house for an individual collection to be not as well received by the customer [as] the year before,” said Norbert Platt, who was group chief executive officer of Richemont at the time. “Part of the reason was that we felt the previous designer [Andersson] was not focusing on the true DNA of Chloé, we’ve not seen growth [in the line]. We’re making changes in design for the next collection to come.”
The arrival of MacGibbon, a graduate of Central Saint Martins, signaled a look more in line with Philo’s winning aesthetic. While MacGibbon had worked at Chloé under Philo, she left the company for a spell before returning as creative director. Before her first show, she said she wanted to create “effortless, desirable clothes that you want to wear.” Her easy, feminine collections for the label were generally well received, and during her tenure she launched a new fragrance called Love, Chloé.
But in 2011, MacGibbon stepped down from her role. Sources at the time said that chairman and ceo Toledano’s exit from the label in 2010 contributed to the designer’s decision. Geoffroy de la Bourdonnaye, Chloé’s current ceo, said in late 2011 that MacGibbon’s departure was a “mutual decision.”
While MacGibbon’s collections garnered positive reviews, during her time at Chloé the house hadn’t yet recovered the buzz it gained under Philo. In late 2011, de la Bourdonnaye declined to give sales figures for the brand, but said that the fiscal year to 2011 had been “a record year for Chloé, which has very healthy financials.” However, at the time the brand had curbed its advertising spend and retail expansion.
Clare Waight Keller’s appointment as creative director came in mid-2011, and de la Bourdonnaye said the brand wasn’t “planning any radical changes.”
“But we do want to become more directional from a creative standpoint, and more service-oriented,” he said. “We want to be even more feminine, more commercial and more on-time with our deliveries. The momentum is gathering, and we’ll be building upon it.”