Does Phoebe Philo at Céline hold the key to the best designer for Dior?

14 July 2011

While LVMH refuse to provide any clues as to the identity of John Galliano’s successor at Christian Dior, CEO Bernard Arnault is willing, it seems to chat about his former protégé’s downfall, and the accompanying fallout. Here’s what he said about the ‘enfant terrible’ now that he has gone. ‘I’m surprised that I did not get a call or a word of excuse from him,’ he said not long after Galliano was fired. ‘After all that I did for him?’ And when he was asked if he could bring himself to forgive Galliano, he said: ‘Not yet.’

He obviously doesn’t feel too overburdened by loyalty to his disgraced designer because at the same time he was praising another of his designers – and one who couldn’t be more different from the flamboyant Galliano – Phoebe Philo at Celine. ‘It will take time, but [Celine] is on the way,’ he told Robin Givhan in Newsweek. ‘Phoebe has the potential. She is doing a style which is completely in line with our time.’ Plus, he notes: ‘My daughter Delphine, she’s working at Dior, but she wears Celine.’

It is the view of the Newsweek journalist that Céline – Bernard Arnault’s most recent addition to his fashion portfolio – will prove closer to a template for the next era in the life of the house of Christian Dior, than any of Arnault’s past recruitment coups (namely, Marc Jacobs at Louis Vuitton and Alexander McQueen at Givenchy - although that was short-lived). She also hints that now Galliano has disgraced himself in such a spectacular and public manner, that Arnault will close down the ‘indulgent father of a naughty child’ side of his persona.

‘If any brand hints at how Arnault might solve his Dior problem, it’s Céline. For years, the company was a bland purveyor of bourgeois sportswear before Philo was given free rein. If Dior was defined by bold, swashbuckling strokes, Céline is design innovation measured in millimeters. What Philo created is understatedly, exquisitely chic—without a cult of personality.

Arnault has been dazzled by Céline. It has seen triple-digit growth, according to Arnault, who believes it has the potential to be the next major brand, even in critical emerging markets like China, where many of the newly rich are still enamored of glitz. In 2010, Asia—excluding Japan—had the distinction of being the largest market for all LVMH products.’

Hmm – an interesting way of looking at it, although we wouldn’t argue that Céline under Philo is free from hype or cultishness; her fans are slavish in their devotion to the sleek, exorbitantly priced items – it’s true that Céline’s expansion was inversely mirrored by Dior’s stagnation. AND so far, Phoebe’s company only sell ready to wear and bags. There is no fragrance, makeup or lower priced line to bolster the bottom line, unlike Dior, which sells everything under the sun. 

Who will it be? As soon as we know, so will you!

- Naomi Attwood


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