Under the cloudlike tent by architect Smiljan Radic erected inside the Tennis Club of Paris for the spring Céline show, Phoebe Philo arranged her guests in close quarters on benches covered in sleeping bags and blown-up versions of the posters enclosed in the show invitation. (The images included extreme close-ups of a nipple, a pierced ear and flowers.) The setting felt a bit like camping, getting us up close and personal with our fellow humans and, were we actually outdoors, nature.
In the past, Philo has talked about her desire to be closer to nature and its influence on her work, which was highly evident here. There was a big outerwear/outdoor-inspired component to the collection: the magnificent white leather poncho that closed the show; a trench with a hem so long it could be doubled back and fastened around the neck to create a cape; and two elegant tabard dresses — one indigo, one ivory — that were simply a long strip of fabric with a hole cut in the center to put over one’s head like an improbably chic tarp.
There was a lot of improbable chic happening inside the tent, a literal fashion bubble. Outside of it, a cut-up, gigantic men’s vest worn over a boxy floral polo shirt, pink pleated skirt that was much longer on one side, and black tasseled boots that looked like ill-fitting leather galoshes will certainly read as insane if not downright hideous. But inside the tent, the look was inventive, a major fashion statement. One of Philo’s sharpest design skills is creating things that are absolutely new to the eye and require time to adjust. After the show some of the words she offered up on the collection were “joyful,” “playful,” “elevated,” “rigor” and “exploration,” which is the one that really rung a bell. She is not afraid to be curious, and her instincts lead to good things.
In addition to the rustic outdoor gear, there was a lot of redefined men’s tailoring — oversized jacket hybrids, and boxy jackets cropped short and sliced to leave dangling strips worn loose over drab pleated pants. The eye didn’t need any time to adjust to a beautiful navy trench dress. Or a sensual and sweet V-neck white lace dress with a utility strap around the bust. Or a brushstroke-printed turtleneck and skirt a-swish in fluffy white fringe. Or a white skirt printed with an image of blue classical statues cinched with a brass door-knocker belt. The shoes were a divine array — no two girls wore the same pair — of pretty and strangely appealing. Though honestly, the white and brown nursing home-grade orthopedic sneakers with purple soles required a very intrepid eye, inside or outside the bubble.