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How To Dress Like: Céline's Phoebe Philo

By Guan Tan

 
Felicia Yap
 

Phoebe Philo turns 44 this year, and her style is sublime. Every pair of eyes trained in fashion can spot from a mile the genre Philo has invented – an effortlessly confident woman dressed in a narrow shouldered jacket, roll-neck sweater, beautifully slim-cut collarless shirt, and slouchy black trousers. 

Over the years she has consistently drawn inspiration from menswear. “I love, I absolutely love menswear,” Philo told Vogue in 2005. Six years on she reiterated to W Magazine, “the fact that men usually have a set of uniform [is] very inspiring – there’s something liberating in not having too many choices. Maybe that’s something women are responding to in my work.” 

This notion of liberation that Philo injected into the landscape of contemporary womenswear stems from her childhood. "The image I have of my mother at that time; she seemed to have a freedom that I think we long for now, a lack of pressure that there is today. Life was much simpler," she confided to The Gentlewoman in 2010. 

And it's all eloquently translated into her fashion language, her work, and particularly her dress that got the industry all infatuated. Here we dissect Philo's look into six salient elements:

Felicia YapA moodboard of Philo's unmistakable high roll-neck looks.
A moodboard of Philo's unmistakable high roll-neck looks.

1. The Roll-Neck

A layering piece, Philo leaves the neck unfolded, and has it crawl up to the base of her ear – or famously cover her face in a portrait shot by David Sims. Her shoulder-length bob is conveniently tucked into the back of the roll-neck. 

One might wonder if this look is at all practical in the perennially humid climate here, but the breezy AIRism High Neck top from Uniqlo's HANA TAJIMA collaboration serves as a close substitute. It works, it really does – although the neck is cut pretty tight, it does keep your hair tucked in place. Plus, the fabric is so light, you could layer a white poplin shirt over and not be dripping in sweat. 

Felicia YapMoodboard of Philo's consistent white poplin shirts, amongst pinstripes, blues, and neutral shirts.
Moodboard of Philo's consistent white poplin shirts, amongst pinstripes, blues, and neutral shirts.

2. The White Shirt

Crisp, poplin, mandarin-collared white shirts. More often than not, Philo has it tucked into her mid- and high-rise trousers. At times she's seen in longer variations, which are left untucked. 

Some trivial details – the top two buttons should be left open, or three when you have a necklace on. What makes the look is how Philo casually flips the cuff over her forearm, shoves it up her elbow, crinkling the sleeves. 

Other alternatives include pinstriped, blue, or beige shirts. 
 

Felicia YapA moodboard of Philo in various cuts of trousers.
A moodboard of Philo in various cuts of trousers.

3. The Slouchy Trousers

You'd be hard pressed to find an image of Philo not in her black slouchy trousers, an item now synonymous with her person. Philo seldom does slim-fit, typically going for straight-leg or flare-leg pants. 

The best way to emulate the look is to have a pair of mid-rise black trousers that pools at your ankles. Turn up the hem (secure it with two simple black stitches by the sides if the material is heavy or Cady) if you're wearing sneakers, and let the hem down if you're in heels. 

Felicia YapMoodboard of Philo's shoes – sneakers and black block heels.
Moodboard of Philo's shoes – sneakers and black block heels.

4. The Shoes

Philo's shoe wardrobe is infallible – black Birkenstocks for summer, white sneakers for everyday wear and black block heels for occasions. 

If you recall the height of Adidas' Stan Smiths fame in 2015, it was Philo's doing. At her fourth collection for Céline, Autumn Winter 2010, she took a bow in these white tennis sneakers, and had the industry clamouring after them. 

Otherwise, she's in 70 millimetres-high black Nappa ballerina pumps from Céline or black low-cut Tabi boots from Maison Margiela

Felicia YapA study of Philo's coats – slim-cut, narrow padded shoulders, notched lapels, and single-breasted – in black or camel wool.
A study of Philo's coats – slim-cut, narrow padded shoulders, notched lapels, and single-breasted – in black or camel wool.

5. The Tailored Coat

The 44-year-old is always in a notched, single-breasted black wool coat that falls to her knees. Or else, she's in a camel woollen coat – from her debut Resort 2010 collection for Céline. 

Philo drapes it over her shoulder when she's on a brisk walk to the car, and at formal events. Many have struggled at imitating her drape, only to wind up looking haughty. 

Felicia YapA close-up study of the jewellery pieces Philo wears.
A close-up study of the jewellery pieces Philo wears.

6. The Jewellery & Bags

Punctuate your Philo look with dangling teardrop earrings or small hoops. She consistently wears two slim wedding bands and a signet ring – all in gold. 

Felicia YapA closer look at the bags Philo carries – all Céline, needless to say.
A closer look at the bags Philo carries – all Céline, needless to say.

She's either toting a navy leather trio pouch, seasonal crossbody handbags held like a clutch or the Cabas tote – all from Céline. 

You'll want your bag sleek, structural, and separate from your body (no crossbody or backpacks) as to not sever the continuous form in Philo's look. 

Felicia YapA study of Philo's silhouette – lean, and continuous from neck to sole.
A study of Philo's silhouette – lean, and continuous from neck to sole.

Altogether, you're looking at an uninterrupted long, straight, layered silhouette that you can experiment with light, climate-friendly materials. Pepper the look with small trinkets of gold, a clutch or tote bag, and tuck in your hair. Voilà!