Rock redux

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 14 December, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 14 December, 2003, 12:00am

Stella McCartney put the rock 'n' roll back into Chloe and now, as the French fashion house approaches its half century, her former understudy, Phoebe Philo, has turned up the volume with a collection perfect for the well-heeled groupie..

For a gal approaching her 50s, stiletto heels intact, the Chloe woman certainly doesn't show it. Celebrating half a century in fashion this year, the Parisian house looks younger - and many would say sexier - than ever. Under the creative supervision of British designer Phoebe Philo, who succeeded Stella McCartney when she left to start her own label two years ago, Chloe has reclaimed the feminine, free-wheeling spirit that had been its hallmark since its first fashion show at the Cafe de Flore, the legendary Left Bank hangout of artists, intellectuals and trend-setters, in 1956.

The story began with Gaby Aghion, a chic Egyptian from Alexandria who, on her arrival in the City of Light, despaired at the state of the average Parisienne's wardrobe. In an era defined by two choices - haute couture and death by bad dressmaker - Aghion pioneered a ready-to-wear collection characterised by soft, body-hugging clothes and a bohemian allure. According to legend, she named the line Chloe after its rounded, feminine tones. Style icons from Maria Callas and Brigitte Bardot to Grace Kelly and Jackie Kennedy soon became converts, ordering her pretty, cotton poplin dresses and printed silk blouses in bulk.

Legions of fans followed in 1965 when Karl Lagerfeld started the first of two tenures - from 1965-83 and 1992-97 - at the fashion house, bringing with him fluid silhouettes, baroque flourishes and floral motifs. Martine Sitbon, a Chloe designer from 1987 to 1992, was another untapped talent to make her name there, as was McCartney, who added a stiff shot of rock 'n' roll glamour with her antique-looking lace tops, diamante-encrusted sunglasses and signature, low-waisted trousers.

This girlie-girl-meets-groupie aesthetic has been perfected by Philo, who served as McCartney's second-in-command after graduating from Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in London. Taking its cue from a long line of screen goddesses, pop chanteuses and It girls, including Julie Christie, Janice Dickinson, Patti Hanson and Jane Birkin, Philo's idiosyncratic blend of nostalgia and bohemia with a superb cut ('My trousers do give a lovely bottom,' she confesses) has attracted an illustrious following that boasts Kate Moss, Camerwon Diaz and Kate Hudson. It is easy to understand why: her latest collection, featured on these pages next to vintage designs from the swinging 60s up to last spring, looks as good on the streets as it does on the red carpet. Rock on.

Opposite page: (clockwise from top left) black crepe dress with white dickey and batwing sleeves, 1971; Jane Birkin models a long symmetrical gown and wide pants in white cotton jersey, 1969; Paloma Picasso in a black jersey dress, 1973; white silk muslin blouse with waffled organza flounces hemmed with lace, 1967.

Top: sequined dress by Karl Lagerfeld, spring/summer 1977.

Above and left: printed cotton and lace robe by Karl Lagerfeld, spring/summer 1974. Beaded top, underneath, and shoes by Phoebe Philo, spring/summer 2003.

Cashmere peacoat ($15,350) and trousers with braided band ($10,650) by Phoebe Philo, autumn/winter 2003, from Chloe, Pacific Place, Admiralty. Hat by Phoebe Philo, spring/summer 2002.

Printed jersey dress by Karl Lagerfeld, autumn/winter 1970. Necklace by Phoebe Philo, spring/summer 2003.

Brocade dress by Karl Lagerfeld, spring/summer 1965. Necklace and shoes by Phoebe Philo, spring/summer 2003.

Photographer: Jean Louis Wolff

Fashion Editor: Tim Lim

Hair: Herman Lee at Chin.G

Make-up: Evelyn Ho

Model: Ana Paula at Models International