THE PHILO FILE
Byline: Miles Socha
PARIS — Phoebe Philo wants to set the record straight: She has never had dreadlocks.
Several articles have mentioned the hairstyle in chronicling the supposedly “out-there” style of Philo, the 27-year-old who succeeded Stella McCartney as the creative director of Chloe. Philo figures that the press was probably just scrounging for details about someone who had previously worked in relative obscurity for four years as McCartney’s assistant. “I did have the gold teeth and really long fingernails, but I’m just a young girl growing up. I’m going through different trends all the time,” she says, mentioning other widely reported aspects of her style. “That was a long time ago. I personally have moved on.”
Indeed, on the eve of her hotly anticipated debut at Chloe on Wednesday, Philo is the picture of confidence and grace under pressure. Sitting in a Paris cafe in a black, puff-sleeved dress she has layered over jeans and accessorized with a wide, hip-slung belt, she has to stop herself from revealing too much about her spring collection. She describes it as “a new take on the golden age of holiday style,” and then adds coyly, “The less I say, the better. I just want it to be totally fresh to the eye.”
But in an exclusive interview with WWD, she mapped out her game plan and design vision for the house, emphasizing that she plans to put her individual stamp on Chloe, while continuing in the young, hip vein of the McCartney era. “It will be different because I’m different,” she says over cups of cafe creme and puffs of Marlboros. “Obviously, I was involved before, and I did like it before. I think people expect the sexy jeans and T-shirts from Chloe. 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. Chloe will remain sexy, but in a more self-assured way.”
Philo is clearly eager to leave the past behind. Since McCartney left Chloe last April to form a joint venture with Gucci Group and to launch her own house, and the British press has been relentless in speculating on the effect the split has had on their friendship. McCartney premieres her new signature collection in Paris on Monday. But Philo steers clear of questions about this. “I don’t have time to dwell on what everyone thinks. I’d rather just get on with it,” she says, smiling sweetly. “My responsibility is to worry about the clothes and make sure I’m getting my message across clearly in them. I just feel in a good place, confident and happy. I have a lot of energy. The house is quite ‘up,’ and the industry, the stores and the press, has been very welcoming. I’m designing from quite a confident point of view, and I hope that will come across in the clothes.”
And the accessories. Philo plans to introduce the house’s first range of handbags, belts and shoes at her show, a first step in expanding the brand beyond the signature collection and the See by Chloe secondary line, which is licensed to the Italian firm Sportswear International.
Clearly energized by the challenge before her, and the enormous expectations of the trade and press, Philo says she sees “a big future for Chloe,” which will celebrate its 50th anniversary next year. A new fragrance and a lingerie collection are among future launches for the house. And Ralph Toledano, the firm’s president, has disclosed a new development on the retail front. His company has just signed a lease for a London flagship at 152-153 Sloane Street, scheduled to open next July. There are currently flagships in New York, Paris, Hong Kong, Taipei, Tokyo and Osaka. Chloe’s top ready-to-wear collection is sold in about 270 doors worldwide, while See by Chloe made its debut in about 450 stores this fall.
Philo confesses that she may have been too eager to get her hands on every aspect of the business when she first landed the big job. “My learning curve the last four months has been enormous, to the point where I get home and I’m shattered,” she says. “I’m very hands-on. I want to know everything. If something can’t be made the way I want, I want to know why.”
But she’s learning how to delegate and focus primarily on the collections. Philo says she designs with herself, her intimates and an imaginary customer in mind, but casts a wide net for inspiration. Seeing young women wearing HotPants and bikinis at a London carnival feeds her ideas as much as “beautifully dressed Italian women” attending the Biennale in Venice. “A lot of people are a bit more regimented about their look,” she says. “I’m not. Everything I see, I absorb. I’m like a sponge.”
During the McCartney era at Chloe, much was made about that designer’s strong animal-rights stance. It turns out that Philo is also vegetarian and “totally against fur,” although she says, “I find it very hard not to be able to use leather for shoes and bags.”
Of fur, she says: “I just find it a bit inhumane. I don’t find it that modern, either. We don’t need it at Chloe.”
Born in Paris, Philo grew up in London and still credits that city with generating most of her fashion ideas. She is the eldest of three children, and her father works in property management, while her mother has been an art dealer and a graphic designer. In fact, Philo proudly reports, her fashion-conscious mother designed album covers, including one for David Bowie during his “Ziggy Stardust” days. She says that both her parents have a creative bent, which fueled her desire to go into fashion. “I found it, as most people do, glamorous and exciting,” she says. “I always had an interest in designers and such.”
A graduate of London’s celebrated Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design, Philo recalls shopping for John Galliano and Martine Sitbon designs whenever she could scare up enough cash. She says she has found that living in her second home, Paris, has matured and mellowed her. “I see women here dressed so immaculately, and you realize it’s not all about provoking with some mad thing,” she says.
Not that she has any reservations about adventurous style. “Whatever impulse that led me to wake up one morning and get gold teeth, I still have it,” she says.