Phoebe Philo's pre-fall 2013 collection for Céline brought to mind Pearly King and Queens, the traditional boater hat and childhood classic The Worst Witch...
It is a mark of a good designer when they can communicate powerful ideas and narrative in a small collection. In just 26 looks for Céline Pre-Fall, Phoebe Philo proved that she is an expert in executing a powerful narrative. The collection spoke powerfully to its audience, both conceptually and commercially.
Pre-fall collections are the younger siblings in the fashion calendar – they are still finding their feet and get less attention than their elders. Yet Philo's offering feels like a defining moment. "It makes me nervous with excitement. It feels like a fashion truism to say that a Céline collection is brilliant, but it is self-evidently brilliant, and with original flourishes", explains AnOther's fashion editor Agata Belcen. And with the carefully considered photography, styling and backdrops (Céline excels in brand communication) maybe it's food for thought for the future of runway presentations?
"The collection spoke powerfully to its audience, both conceptually and commercially"
The collection was loaded with Céline-isms yet full of plenty of fresh, new ideas, mainly focused on tailoring. Two of the defining features of the pre-fall collection were the pearls and the boater hats which featured throughout. Large pearl buttons adorned tailored navy pantsuits, blouses and swishing double-breasted overcoats. Pearls on clothing can of course be traced back to Pearly King and Queens, an organised charitable tradition of working class culture in London. The practice of wearing clothes decorated with pearl buttons originated in the 19th century, first associated with Henry Croft, an orphan street sweeper who collected money for charity. At the time, London street traders were in the habit of wearing trousers decorated at the seams with pearl buttons that had been found by market traders. Croft adapted this to create a pearly suit to draw attention to himself and aid his fund-raising activities.
The boater hat made its first appearance in look 4. It was a surprise – a summer accessory one would not usually think to wear with fur, leather and wool. But in Philo's hands, it works. Boaters were popular as casual summer headgear in the late 19th century and early 20th century, especially for boating or sailing.
Of course, it's always fun to liken a fashion collection to a childhood character, in this case, The Worst Witch. Written and illustrated by Jill Murphy, the books were first published in 1974 and see Mildred Hubble, the worst student at Miss Cackle's Academy for Witches, dressed in trademark black with lace-up shoes and a hat. Imagine a storybook with a Worst Witch who wears Céline pre-fall? Ankle-length pleated leather skirts, giant wedges, goat-hair coats, leather peplums, Fair Isle sweaters and an oversized brass belt buckle. Amazing.
Text by Laura Bradley
Laura Bradley is the Commissioning Editor of AnOther and published her first series of Fashion Equations in May 2008. Tom Baxter is an illustrator currently living and working in London.