Once a minimalist always a minimalist? Not necessarily, at least if the creator in question is Phoebe Philo. The powerful Céline collection Philo showed on Sunday made a daring argument for overt, unfussy surface decoration, her appetite for such flourish perhaps whetted by the flamboyant modernist plaids she worked to exquisite effect for fall.
This time, Philo took her decorative urges in a different direction, channeling tribal, artisanal concepts into some serious optic verve. The bold graphics startled, at least initially; here was an aggressive statement — in a good way. Philo retained her clothes’ inherent refinement while injecting them with a primal energy influenced not only by the creative adornments of exotic, nonspecific cultures, but also by Western graffiti. One could also nod to a pair of designers who preceded Philo to the earthy palette-bold brushstroke genre of decoration: Jean-Charles de Castelbajac and Donna Karan.
Philo channeled their shared motifs into her fashion world view, which is to say ultracool and consummately modern. She opened with sturdy elongated, crisp T-shirts and tanks decorated with big, bold painters’ brushstrokes over delicate, breezy pleated skirts, the contrasts of structure and texture creating a fresh, interesting silhouette. She widened her stance with oversize tunics and sweaters and added textural diversity with festoons of thick fringing. Coats went the bold painterly route for women who dare, while those who prefer their outerwear with more tempered bravado will love the belted black coat with a border of three-deep multicolored O-rings. The bags were fabulous, whether big sacks with endless fringing or big, flat carryalls in bright colors with contrasting linings and metal handles.
Underscoring it all: the essential pragmatism Philo takes to her work. She understands and delivers the function busy women want and need with their fashion.