Sex, sensuality, glamour — where would fashion be without them? Yet too often the subjects get no more serious consideration on the runway than Kim Kardashian’s cleavage gets in the front row. “I find glamour quite complex myself,” Phoebe Philo said backstage after Céline. “When is it sexualized? When is it not? When is it authentic to Céline and the work we do?” Philo thus tackled those questions in a nuanced exploration without the need for full resolution or sartorial pontification. The results were quietly extraordinary.
Philo explained that “the idea of sexuality and sensuality and the fine line” between them led her to a “tattered glamour.” She opened with a sweater with belled cuffs covering the hand over wide pants in what looked like embroidered crocheted lace. The fabric would recur in a jacket over pants and a dress, all chaste of silhouette but revealing of skin via random devoré windows. Philo also did an exquisite turn with lingerie, corsets undone and deconstructed over slipdresses and deliberately ill-fitting conical bras. Sweater dresses covered up in front flashed circular, open portholes in back.
But truth be told, had Philo not identified the show’s topic as glamour, that sensual-sexual precipice, the overarching theme might have gone over one’s head (or at least this reviewer’s head). What do shirts in charming animal prints (not stripes and spots but full-body wolves and stags) over roomy skirts or loose plunging-neck onesies with polite underpinnings or enormous, colorful totes have to do with glamour, tattered or otherwise? Probably nothing, which is fine with Philo. As it will be, too, with the legions of Céline devotees who will find plenty to pant about in this lineup.
Even as the designer mused about the role of sexuality in dressing and how she, a serious woman designing for a base of serious women, should negotiate the issue, she didn’t lose sight of the more work-a-day aspects of getting dressed. Cases in point: her coats. Satiny, slightly puffy versions had sleeves that unbuttoned at the shoulder to provocative effect — daring, even. But Philo also showed perfectly plain, ultra-tony leather coats with cinched waists and others with voluptuous fur trims that radiated movie-star élan. Did each piece follow neatly from one to the next, a linear tale of sex and glamour? Not at all, which was the collection’s power and Philo’s professional purpose. “What I try to do is give women a choice,” she said. For fall, exquisite choices indeed.