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Brand to Know: The Digital Reincarnate of Old Celine

By Bianca Husodo

Peter Do

When Peter Do launched the first season of his namesake clothing line last year, it was to much buzzy fanfare. First, the unheard-of New York-based Vietnamese designer was a protégé of Phoebe Philo, Celine’s former design darling beloved by her affluent cult-like clientele who often self-dub themselves as “Philophiles”. Second, his sleek, understated vision for womenswear — very much akin to that of Philo’s — couldn’t have arrived at a more apt timing.

Philo, who departed Celine in late 2017 after more than a decade of helming the French label’s creative direction, left a void for a particular vision of unfussy minimalist femininity that was synonymous to the label. Her devotees were left to frantically search for alternatives. The term ‘Old Celine’ soon became an acknowledged vernacular in a wistful nod to Philo’s Celine epoch, earning its own Instagram tribute account not long after.

“People were mourning, they were looking for something that reminded them of Phoebe,” Do says. His clothing runs in a similar intuitive vein: quality fabrics serve as blank canvases that are then moulded into structures of smart greige blazers with big shoulders slashed open on the underarms in curved sharpness, or pleated asymmetric skirts layered on loose trousers. They encapsulate the sense of intelligence emblematic to ‘Old Celine’. “That’s what we’ve been boxed up into,” the designer agrees. “But moving forward, it’s about establishing our own codes, our own ethos.”

Peter DoPeter Do Fall/Winter ’19.
Peter Do Fall/Winter ’19.

Do deliberately set out to fill the gaping hole, yet he managed to step in and do it in his own way. Beyond the cognate design tropes lies a chasm of difference between Do and ‘Old Celine’. The 28-year-old, for one, is a digital-first member of the millennial population. His clear-cut vision is openly exhibited on Instagram, both of his brand and his own. His unabashed receptivity towards the world of online transience is a far cry from Philo’s notorious aversion towards it.

Do has a knack for translating his craft into a cohesive visual language that resonates with his Instagram-savvy client base. His label’s feed serves glimpses into his moodboard; next season’s studio fittings; close-ups of an oversized cuff or the cinch on the back of a leather vest Do wants you to zoom in on. On his own, he posts his personal escapades in calculated lo-fi exposure: team members road-testing his clothes, or himself, mish-mashing them with his bucket ‘Old Celine’ bag and Margiela Tabi boots. Both channels are voyeuristic vortexes into Do’s way of seeing.

Peter Do’s Instagram (@doxpeter) is a brand touchpoint on its own.
Peter Do’s Instagram (@doxpeter) is a brand touchpoint on its own.

Suffice to say, this works. In its infancy of two seasons, a combined following of the label and Do’s platforms rack up to more than 100,000. And the numbers speak: demand surges beyond Do’s small-batch supply. Certain pieces, like his now-signature half-skirt, fly off Net-a-Porter’s e-racks as soon as they arrive. The internet, then again, is the birthplace of Peter Do the label. Do even met some of his team members via Tumblr. Do’s female team members, designer An Nguyen and e-commerce director Jessica Wu have their own sizeable pool of followers who giddily double tap on their Peter Do-interweaved images; disparate yet parallel extensions to the realm of Do’s discreetly profound aesthetic acumen.

That’s not to say digital literacy trumps craftsmanship for Do. In spite of his physical absence, Do’s garments are the fundamental material to the dialogue. He’s grounded in reality, drawing inspiration from the women around him: his mother, the women in his team — observing their daily interaction with clothing and garments. “Back in the day, couture houses — Balenciaga, Dior — are interacting with their clients. It’s very personal. There’s just a lot of noise in the industry right now. I do think we have enough of slap-on logos, texts and pictures on hoodies and sweatshirt. We want to quietly whisper in and do it the right way again: focus on what matters. Clothes used to be important and now they’re not,” Do reflects.

Peter DoThe ‘spacer’ fabric constructed in the familiar silhouettes of cowboy boots and five-pocket jeans.
The ‘spacer’ fabric constructed in the familiar silhouettes of cowboy boots and five-pocket jeans.

This essentially means putting together a new modern wardrobe for women. Do developed a fabric of his own: a spongey, seemingly diaphanous neoprene-like material he dubs the ‘spacer’. His range of basics — of which Do calls the ‘Core’ line — includes simple tank tops, shirts and socks constructed in the material. Do experiments with it as well, shaping them into cowboy boots even. “It’s become our signature. People know us by this fabric. These jeans, shirts and jackets, they look great. You get on the cab or the train, you come out and they’ll still look good. They can be machine-washed. I tried it, the clothes came out the same,” he says.

Do balances this dexterity for quality with a sense of receptivity and spontaneity. The interpersonal bond he builds is as much of a currency as his craft. “I’m focusing on a return to clothing, to garment-making, but much like the grandmasters, I also want to connect with and speak to the clients,” he posits. And attuned as he is to the present, Do is taking the most effective route: building a digital ecosystem of his own where real clothing finds its way to real women.