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A Woman’s Work |


A Woman’s Work

ARE WE THERE YET? - Karen Bolilia - The Philippine Star
A Womanâs Work
Archival work of Phoebe Philo's 10-year tenure at the French fashion house: Celine spring/summer 2018 (center) and spring/summer 2017

MANILA, Philippines — It felt rather urgent, reacquainting myself with Phoebe Philo’s Céline (accent included), no matter how recent that was — just a season ago — in lieu of new Celine (no accent). I went through every season, which begins in 2010, almost a decade’s worth of work belonging to a time of its own; so singular, so at ease, so fused into the consciousness as to render its effect invisible.

Much has been said about Hedi Slimane’s debut in the LVMH-owned house, and while I’m tempted to add more incredibly heated, inarguably violent takes on his collection — I will not. All I’m left with is the absence of feeling, as in: where is the feeling? After season after season of emotionally-charged clothes, fashion that speaks, proverbially, of a woman’s perversions, defiance, grace, skepticism, sensuality (I could go on) — suddenly, poof! A dissolution of dialogue between clothing and a woman’s interiority, just like that.

To go through Philo’s Céline archive is to navigate a record of empathy, thoughtfulness, and her own brand of feminism. During her rare backstage interviews, she talks about tenderness, freedom, intensity — the many possibilities and iterations of what a woman could be. She reflected on our complexity, vibrancy, joy. In her cover story for The Gentlewoman, Philo often talked about her mother and how she dressed; the confidence she inherited that allows her, twice now, to willfully abandon her Big Fashion Life.

The spring 2014 campaign features Daria Werbowy.

And so, in talking about her Céline, I, too, ended up evaluating how my own mother shaped the way I dress, my inherited confidence, my inherited fears.

Just a couple of weeks ago I went through some old family albums to document how my mom used to dress. There were not a lot of pictures (something I can’t say for myself if my own daughter ever looks for some “vintage” mom looks), but almost all of them involved wearing pants. This is also a very distinct memory for me, in general. I grew up watching my mom pursue a career in a traditionally patriarchal field, and for big, formal events, she would wear a barong (she had them in every color) and paired it with black trousers. This was never unusual for me. The most striking thing to emerge from my little archaeological dig is what the women who came before me wore at my baptism. My mom wore a very ‘80s emerald blouse paired with a printed pleated skirt. My grandmother? An oversized striped tee paired with oversized khaki shorts. And sneakers. In both photos they held me, smiling.

On almost a daily basis, my mom would cry foul over the fact that I rarely wore a bra (not the biggest free-the-nipple advocate, that one); that I never fix my hair; that some of my clothes all but dangle against my shoulders. But year after year, I feel more at home in my skin, and it’s because of her. The system in place, if I could call it that, gave me the space to evolve, to be any version of myself. At this point I’ve amassed a good number of trousers (that’s mom), and a reasonable amount of blazers (that’s Phoebe). A full suit look is my favorite armor.

The spring 2015 campaign inspired by Joan Didion.

The expression of conflict, the collision of intentions, and the architecture of feeling are some of the things I miss about old Céline. The most would be respect. A woman who understood us intimately — the sum of all our fears — who wanted us to be vulgar if we so chose. Who in many ways, in a sea of toxic masculinity, fashioned dignity into something wearable, as to keep us afloat.

And the clothes? They’re good just as they are, without any explanation, without a statement.

And maybe you think that all I’ve talked about here are feelings.

So what?

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