Phoebe Philo, the long-awaited namesake brand of the former Céline designer, officially launched on Monday, at 10 a.m. EST. The first collection, called the A1 Edit, consists of oversized leather coats, zip-up trousers, square-toed heeled loafers and angular, ironed shirts, as well as sunglasses and jewelry. The site malfunctioned shortly after the collection launched, and many items have sold out already.
Philo has been determined to stage a comeback on her own terms. She reportedly said that the decision “to be independent, to govern and experiment on my own terms is hugely significant to me.” Six years after announcing her decision to leave Céline, she now has her own luxury company with minority backing from her previous employer LVMH. The fashion line was first shown in person to some members of the press in early October, plus the brand held one-to-one press appointments at the brand’s West London studio on October 27. It was made viewable to the public on Monday at phoebephilo.com.
Brand demand can be hard to predict, but the Phoebe Philo launch was planned months in advance, so it was somewhat surprising to see the lagging website’s performance on day one. In July, the brand began offering a sign-up on its website for those wanting to receive notifications about the eventual launch.
“If someone only has a few minutes to check out and money’s not the issue, that person’s web experience will dictate whether they stay,” said Adam Ayers, CTO at strategy agency Number 5, who has worked for fashion brands including Yeezy and Jonathan Simkhai. While at Yeezy, he managed traffic of up to a million people at a time on the brand’s DTC site. “If [the site] crashes, they probably won’t come back, so it could hurt your brand.”
According to Ayers, to ensure a luxury-level experience for the brand’s most valuable customers, the Phoebe Philo team had personal shoppers reach out to their best clients ahead of the launch, allowing them to reserve products on their clients’ behalf.
Ayers owed the malfunction to a lack of testing and a small budget for the custom-built website. “For a lot of fashion companies, there is this idea that the innovation in their clothing design needs to [be communicated] through innovation in technology. They then tend to misfire when it comes to technology because they’re trying to avoid using best practices and things that work,” he said.
The brand did not respond to a request for comment.
The Phoebe Philo brand is producing all items in its in-house atelier and studio in London. The first collection’s items will be released through mid-December in three Edits, or drops, called A1, A2 and A3. According to the Financial Times, no more than 100 pieces of each style have been produced, and shoppers are restricted to buying just one of each style at a time. At the time of writing this story, 38 of the 150 items had sold out, including the metal necklace featuring the repeated word “Mum,” the attachable scarf coats and the yak wool jumpers. The collection’s prices range from $500 to nearly $15,000, with the prices of some items requiring a request.
“The pre-release hype around the collection and the limiting of customer purchases to one unit of each style seems intended to prevent price speculation in the secondary market and feels deeply ingrained in drop culture mechanics,” said Blake Lezenski, program director at investment company Outlier Ventures. “These mechanics emerged from premium streetwear brands like Supreme in the last five years yet still permit the look and feel of legacy luxury.”
The limited-drop model has become more popular among luxury brands. For example, Louis Vuitton’s non-transferable phygital collectible trunks sold for $39,000 in June.
“Especially since it’s her first drop, a lot of people won’t want to miss out,” said Nick Vinckier, director of corporate innovation at the luxury goods company Chalhoub Group, which has joint ventures with brands including Max Mara and Loewe in the Middle East. “The consumer of today enjoys this new model of more dynamic, seasonless drops. It creates more excitement, gives the designer more freedom of expression and makes customers wonder what’s coming up next. People who don’t love this drop might check what’s up next, and those who shopped now and enjoyed their buys will be the first ones in line for the next Edit.”
Vinckier added, “This is also a more sustainable model, as higher demand than supply means no excess inventory and less stress on the environment.”
Other newness within the Phoebe Philo brand comes in the form of its designs. Select styles in the first Edit offer versatility as they’re convertible. For example, coats feature optional clip-on scarfs, calling to mind Glenn Martens’ leather boots with clip-on panels for Y Project. Convertible fashion has been popular in the past as a cost-saving approach to fashion, especially for outerwear. It was highlighted in 2011 by The New York Times as designers like Helmut Lang and Carolina Herrera experimented with the format. Now, recession woes and the need for styling options may even affect those able to afford a $5,400 coat.
Finally, there is a resolute conviction in the brand starting off as DTC and online-only. Conversely, Céline was able to exhibit its clothing via many stores. It is unclear whether Philo is planning to expand to retail. But it’s worth noting that product descriptions on the site communicate design details that would typically only be noticeable in person, like texture. The description for a structured tailored jacket reads, “The fabric has subtle texture on the surface and a satin sheen back.” A wool jacket description reads, “The fabric has a dry surface and fluid drape.”
“The challenge for the brand will be to reach scale,” said Vinckier. “LVMH invested in the company and they will eventually want to see a return on their investment. The brand [may decide to] work with handpicked retail partners to scale its reach and alleviate the burden of doing marketing and logistics all by itself. And perhaps it will look at an exclusive partnership with a pure player. A lot of DTC brands have been struggling and an exit to a larger conglomerate is often a solution.”