Back in the Game: Philo Returns

Phoebe Philo's first designs for Celine will be unveiled in June.

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In addition to doing some under-the-radar consulting for Gap Europe, Philo is said to have put out feelers to fashion’s biggest players — including Gucci Group and Chloé parent Compagnie Financière Richemont — about launching a signature fashion house, in addition to interviewing for a range of high-profile jobs, including Valentino, sources said.

Philo arrived at Celine in tandem with a new chief executive officer, Marco Gobbetti, who had orchestrated a turnaround at Givenchy. Together, they will be faced with rejuvenating a brand that has seen a revolving door of designers in recent years, and mixed results.

Philo succeeded Ivana Omazic, a designer tapped from Prada Group in 2005 to steer Celine into woman-friendly territory. Omazic herself succeeded ex-Burberry designer Roberto Menichetti, who had a lackluster one-year collaboration at Celine.

The brand has yet to reclaim the buzz it enjoyed when Michael Kors was at the design helm, from 1997 to 2004. Omazic exited the company last October, but her team remained in place to design the fall-winter collection, which will not be put on the runway.

In an interview, Gobbetti described 2009 as a “transition year” at Celine, citing high interest — and expectation — in Philo’s designs.

While far less prominent than Louis Vuitton, Dior or Fendi, considered “star brands” in Arnault’s luxury parlance, Celine is a sizable business, with a retail network of some 130 stores, concentrated in Asia, which represents about half the business. Market sources have estimated Celine’s volume at around 200 million euros, or about $290 million at current exchange rates.

The business is believed to be close to break-even.

Gobbetti said the retail network would remain “the backbone of our distribution,” while spying plenty of upside potential with wholesale, which he described as “underdeveloped,” particularly in the U.S. Philo said she deliberately decided to sit out the Paris runway shows next month, as a way to “give the brand a bit of a break” and not succumb to fashion’s “fast and furious” pace.

“I prefer to take control of the situation rather than letting the situation take control of us,” she said.

Yet her eagerness is plain, and she relishes the chance to make her new fashion statement on the runway come October.

“I feel very strongly that we’ve got something very interesting to show,” she said. “I personally feel quite ambitious and excited about getting back into work and getting started.”



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