Laura Snelgrove

Designer Biography

DOI: 10.5040/9781474260428-FPA052

Founded as a children’s shoe store in 1945 by husband-and-wife team Céline and Richard Vipiana, the Parisian house of Céline was transformed into an international women’s sportswear brand only in the 1960s, when the line expanded to include handbags and ready-to-wear, began selling in a chic boutique on the Saint-Germain-des-Prés, and expanded its sales to Rome, Monte Carlo, and Japan.

Helmed for more than forty years by its namesake designer Madame Vipiana, the brand was always known for its distinctly Parisian DNA. For instance, the house’s iconic chain link motif was said to have been inspired by a moment of contemplation at the Arc de Triomphe precipitated by a stalled car. This logo has since appeared on the brand’s silk scarves, leather goods, and belt buckles.

In 1987 luxury mogul Bernard Arnault purchased Céline, identifying the potential value in a company whose goods had become globally recognized for their innately Parisian discretion and elegance. By 1994, Céline was integrated into Arnault’s conglomerate LVMH, and the Vipiana family had been gradually relieved of design and management duties.

In 1997, it was announced that American sportswear designer Michael Kors would assume the head design position at the house; by 1999, positive critical reception and growing sales would see him promoted to creative director. Kors’s appointment followed a 1990s trend that saw young designers hired to inject a youthful spirit at traditional French houses, including John Galliano at Christian Dior and Alexander McQueen at Givenchy.

Throughout Kors’s tenure, the international profile of Céline grew by leaps and bounds, appearing on Hollywood celebrities, magazine covers, and in over a hundred stores worldwide. The brand was also at the forefront of the craze for conspicuous logos, its chain-link and equestrienne-themed graphics appearing as all-over prints on handbags, accessories, and even jeans.

At the conclusion of his contract in 2004, Michael Kors was replaced by Roberto Menichetti, who had previously worked with Claude Montana and Jil Sander, and most recently at Burberry. After a disappointing first two seasons, the firm hired Croatian-born Ivana Omazic, a former protégée of Miuccia Prada, who aimed to return the brand to a Parisian sensibility more in line with the original vision of the Vipianas. Concurrently, the brand expanded to include secondary line Miss Céline in 2005, and a line of golf wear in 2006.

Citing Omazic’s failure to sufficiently revamp the image of Céline, in 2008 LVMH sought out former Chloé head designer Phoebe Philo, who had resigned from the fashion world in 2006 to raise her young children in London. Rather than requiring relocation to Paris, Philo’s offer included a promise that she could retain a London atelier for this reason.

Céline did not appear on the fall 2009 runway in Paris as the house orchestrated the transition to Philo’s directorship. Debuting in June of that year, the new Céline received near-universal critical praise, and has been credited by American Vogue with igniting “the cool minimal trend” among professional women. Noted for its austerity, sharp tailoring, and sensual ease, Philo’s work for the house has shown consistently strong sales in the high-end market.

Céline, Spring/Summer 1999 Photograph by Niall McInerney, Fashion Photography Archive

References and Further Reading

Céline.” VoguePedia. n.d. http://www.vogue.com/voguepedia/Celine (accessed 22 April 2013).

Find in Library Jones Terry, and Susie Rushton , eds. Fashion Now 2: i-D Selects 160 of Its Favourite Fashion Designers From Around the World . London : Taschen, 2005.

Find in Library Martin J. J. ““New Name to Know: By Bringing Céline Back to its 60-Year-Old Roots, Ivana Omazic Hopes to Appeal to a Whole New Generation of Fashion Fans”.” Harper’s Bazaar , September 2005 .