The History of Celine

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When it was announced that Hedi Slimane was appointed to helm Celine, there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that he would swiftly revamp the minimalist label that Phoebe Philo had so carefully constructed during her tenure as creative director. That assumption was proven just a few weeks ago, when Slimane debuted an accent-less Celine logo. And it comes as no surprise; he is the bad boy of fashion, a reputation he rightly earned after completely overhauling Yves Saint Laurent in 2012. For some, the Celine news was met with glee and anticipation. For others—the Philophiles, namely—it was not.

Just ahead of Slimane’s debut of the new Celine (the Spring 2019 show is slated to present at 8:30 p.m. on Sept. 28 during Paris Fashion Week), those changes are already starting to show: the announcement of a men’s line and couture collection, a newly scrubbed Instagram account, and a new bag called “Le 16” that Slimane had evidently conceived on the first day of his new role.

But as hard as it is to swallow change (especially one as drastic and immediate as this one), it’s necessary for a brand’s survival and evolution. Because while we all know and love the Celine of today—a wonderfully minimalist, no-fuss aesthetic that resonates with the modern-day working woman—it wasn’t always that way for the 73-year-old French brand.

Celine was founded by Céline Vipiana and her husband Richard in 1945 as a made-to-measure children’s shoe boutique that was located at 52 rue Malte. The shop was denoted by a highly distinct red elephant logo created by cartoonist Raymont Peynet. Finding success, the duo expanded and opened three more stores by 1948. More than a decade later, Vipiana used her success as a launch pad to branch out into ready-to-wear, with the goal to deliver fashion to the everyday woman. On a platform that advocated for practical clothing over frivolity, she launched a sportswear-driven line that revolved around wool skirt suits, fitted shirts, leather vests, and pastel-colored denim.

In 1963, she unveiled a women’s shoe line and a year later introduced Vent Fou, the brand’s first fragrance that featured notes of galbanum, jasmine, and rose. Vipiana added leather accessories in 1966, including bags, belts, and gloves. In her mission to deliver pieces of the highest caliber, she sought out a leather goods factory in Florence.

By the ‘70s, Celine had gone international, with new boutiques opening across the globe, from Monte Carlo to Beverly Hills to Hong Kong. But 1973 marked a logo redesign, in which Vipiana revealed intertwined Cs (a nod to the Parisian landmark Arc de Triomphe) that was seen on the brand’s first signature “C” Sulky canvas.

In 1987, Bernard Arnault, the chairman and CEO of luxury conglomerate LVMH, saw the brand’s potential, bought its capital, and inherited all 89 of its stores. Nine years later, Celine officially became a part of the LVMH group and began ramping up the development of its ready-to-wear and accessory collections. Vipiana remained the designer of Celine until she died in 1997 at 84 years old; she was immediately succeeded by Michael Kors as lead designer for ready-to-wear (a notable appointment since two other in-demand American designers were named to spearhead European labels at the same time: Marc Jacobs at Louis Vuitton and Narciso Rodriguez at Loewe).

Kors brought to Celine his trademark sportswear sensibilities of luxury and easy glamour. When translated into clothing, that resulted in cashmere knit sets in peppy hues, slouchy gilded pants, sharp tailoring, and skin-skimming dresses. Kors’ Celine saw themed collections that catered to the jet-setter, centering around exotic destinations like Monte Carlo and Tahiti, or after-hour activities, like a Miami night club or casino—not unlike Kors‘ current collections. He had a hand in boosting Celine’s “It” bag appeal with the Boogie and Poulbot styles. In 1999, he was appointed creative director, but by 2004, buzz had died down and he left to focus on his namesake label.

„Was I mistreated? No. Was I neglected? Yes,“ Kors once said after the Celine Fall 2004 show, his final for the brand. “It’s just that I never felt anyone was watching the smaller companies at all, but everybody was spending their time on the two first-born children—Louis Vuitton and Christian Dior. In a way, if you’re a nice kid, no one pays attention to you. If you’re a bad kid, you get spoiled.”

Post-Kors, the future of Celine was uncertain. Former Burberry designer Roberto Menichetti lasted at the helm for only a year. Ivana Omazic—who had previously been at Prada, Jil Sander, and Miu Miu—picked up the reins in 2006, but couldn’t quite deliver and was succeeded by British designer Phoebe Philo.

Obviously, we don’t have to tell you how successful the Phoebe Philo era was. She was the savior of Celine, having plucked the brand from obscurity and making it relevant through her incredibly chic and minimalist take on Vipiana’s original aesthetic. For her first collection, during the Spring 2010 season, she showed clothing that women aspired to wear: precise lines, and sharp tailoring that juxtaposed with fluid shapes, all rendered in a rigid color palette of neutrals.

“I just thought I’d clean it up,” she had said about her debut. “Make it strong and powerful—a kind of contemporary minimalism.”

And Philo stuck with it all through her 10 years at the helm—it was the very basis of her collections even as she presented new ideas (fur-lined Birkenstock-like sandals, for one), launched movements (the Stan Smith white sneaker trend), sent empowering messages (like her feminist-driven Spring 2017 collection that unapologetically highlighted the female body), and paid tribute to significant figures (like casting a 79-year-old Joan Didion as the face of the Spring 2015 campaign). And she also launched a slew of now-iconic bags (the Trapeze, Classic, Luggage, Cabas styles).

“Working with Celine has been an exceptional experience for me these last 10 years,” Philo said when she left. “I am grateful to have worked with an incredibly talented and committed team and I would like to thank everyone along the way who has been part of the collaborations and conversations…it’s been amazing.”

Slimane’s got his work cut out for him—but we already know he’s up to the task.

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