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Two designers, two different takes on what we love

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There were two events last week in the world of high fashion that caused collective gasps of delight, one being the absolutely exquisite, over-the-top Valentino couture show in Venice, and the other, the news that designer Phoebe Philo is planning to launch her own label.

Women love Phoebe Philo’s cool, minimalist design sensibility for many reasons, most of all because her clothes are suitable for real life, not a fantasy world of sweeping skirts and complicated adornment.

Philo,formerly  head creative at Chloe and Celine, was pivotal in creating a modern silhouette that continues to dominate – slouchy tailored pants, oversized tailoring, big practical bags, extreme #ugly shoes, such as flat chunky slides and fake-fur heels, all designed to communicate comfort and an attitude that says you are ready for anything, living life on your terms.


Her idea of evening glamour was equally pared back, a top and skirt, pants and a shirt. To be honest, it’s how we, most of us, prefer to dress. How we do dress, in fact.

Philo herself is the epitome of low-key chic – hair casually pulled back, no makeup, one piece of statement jewellery, if that.

She would appear on the runway at the end of each of her powerhouse shows, wearing a shirt or sweater, pants and sneakers. The stark Celine campaigns, which featured singular, dynamic pieces such as a deftly cut overcoat or big sunglasses were a welcome break from all the other excess and froth that every new fashion season delivers. She was the opposite of male designers telling us that we want to look sexy and fierce, all the time, blah blah blah. For the record,I’ve never wanted to look sexy in all my life.

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Philo wants us to build wardrobes of wearable, timeless basics that we feel good in, can live our busy lives in, and she’s also inclusive of larger sizes (to a point). Hopefully, that’s what she will be delivering again with her eponymous new line, and that’s why there is a huge female customer base waiting with bated breath.

When women designers are at the helm, and the male gaze is absent, there is a different sensibility that comes through which is not so much about being decorative, but more solution-driven, more functional.

Conversely, because it’s the fashion world, function and practicality were not what we were looking for when Valentino designer Pier Paolo Piccioli sent out his sumptuous couture collection in Venice.

It was a cornucopia of jewel-coloured ballgowns, opera coats, elbow-length gloves and feather hats. Nothing that most of us will ever wear, but don’t we all love and appreciate flights of fancy like this amongst all the pandemic doom and gloom we are living through.

These are not clothes you will buy off the rack (not many of us can afford them, to be honest) but they were a glorious moment of optimism and glamour, accompanied by the uplifting soundtrack “All You Need is Love.” In Venice, what a beautiful moment in time.

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