In between racks of clothing, sewing machines, a ceramic oven, a washing machine and boxes filled with buttons, zips and fabrics, a tanned and resplendent Isabel Marant talks to RUSSH about her love for show production, the secret to her brand’s success and why designing is a bit like giving birth every six months.
Embroidered blouses, hip-hugging mini skirts, oversized blazers, slouchy pants and soft grey sweatshirts: Isabel Marant’s casual, yet distinctively feminine clothes are just what it takes to pull off that effortless Parisian look. Simple as that. Isabel Marant is Parisian Cool. Playfully juggling together ethnic craftsmanship, sophisticated street and American sportswear codes, with a sweet dash of boyfriend rock ’n‘ roll, Miss Marant gets it right all over. In fact, she regularly manages to beam us up to fashion heaven with her beautiful shows during Paris Fashion Week. So obviously, we were a little surprised to hear that she doesn’t feel half as angelic as we do when the craze is over. Just after her usual holiday recovery scheme, however, she took Russh on a little tour through her vast showroom space.
RUSSH: She Was a Wonder Girl was such a fitting song at your last show...
Isabel Marant: I worked together with my good friend Ariel Wizman for the music. I love female vocals, particularly when the lyrics are about a woman and when they resemble the one I dress. We always use very upbeat, dynamic and feminine music. This time we took something very 80s glam rock because we thought it corresponded well with the collection.
It seems to me your wonder girl is the kind of woman every woman wants to be...
Hahaha, that’s fantastic! I think it’s just a woman who wants to have a strong personality but without being totally dressed up, who wants to be different but in a discreet way. And she’s usually a rather active, entrepreneurial woman, who needs to feel good in her clothes without trying too hard.
Would you say you’re an Isabel Marant woman yourself?
Well yes, usually. When I design I think about what I don’t have in my closet yet and what should really be there. I try to determine in which direction I feel like going, what I am looking for in a piece of clothing and why I still want new things. It is always a rather intuitive but philosophical approach. It’s a bit like being pregnant, you have something growing inside yourself, but you don’t really know what it will be. And all of a sudden, when all the little feelings, ideas and inspirations become more clear, you give birth. I think a lot before I start my collections.
Are there ever times you sit in your office and feel uninspired?
The only time I really feel like doing nothing at all is just after the shows. I’m emptied out, I feel ugly and shit and I don’t want to do a thing. It’s horrible. So then I always go on a holiday. I need to forget; it’s kind of like a baby blues that I never had when I gave birth to my son. But luckily it only lasts for a very short time. [Laughs.]
What about before and during your shows? How do you feel then?
I love working on the catwalk shows because it gets me out of my daily routine. There is this emulation of different ideas and people I only work with during that period: makeup artists, the models, my stylist Emmanuelle Alt. It’s like a bi-annual rendezvous which is really great and refreshing. The day of the show itself is always a bit stressful and during the show... I have no idea, actually. It goes by so quickly. I’m occupied with everything, worried that one of them will walk out with the wrong outfit, that someone will fall and all that I can really do is hope that everything will be ok.
Tell me about your work with Emmanuelle Alt. What kind of relationship is that?
It’s funny because Emmanuelle and I kind of started out together a long time ago. I always admired her style and what she did for Vogue, but we lost contact for a while because she was overloaded with work. Four years ago her husband Franck Durand became my artistic director and I was always saying ‘I love what your wife is doing, I would love to work together with her one day.’ So it was little by little. Now we have done about five shows together.
I love the vision she has for my clothes, she manages to put them together in a way that is a bit more sophisticated than what I did before. You see, I’m good at making clothes and dressing myself, but then dressing models, creating silhouettes, that’s not my thing at all. I love it when she goes tac, tac, tac... puts the different pieces together, and I’m like ‘oh yeah, that’s exactly it!’ I don’t create the dressed girl like a lot of designers do. I’m interested in the separate pieces, but in the end I can’t get the family back together again. Emmanuelle can take that step back. She has a very clear and precise vision and it’s really great to work with her.
Have you ever had different opinions on the styling of your shows?
In this collection she thought it would be good to use thigh-high boots. I was like ‘Oh la la, that is not me at all, I would never wear thigh-high boots’. I normally think they are super vulgar. But when she put the silhouettes together, I understood straight away that they could actually be me. In fact, I had a complicated leg situation going on. For this collection I really wanted long, skinny legs, so it was all about leggings and things like that. I didn’t feel like stockings but then how do you wear a short skirt and still have something on your leg? That’s when the thigh-high boots came in perfectly. She really managed to make them me.
Apart from your wonderful collections, your shows always boast an amazing cast of models. They are like the who’s who of the model business. How does that selection process work?
It’s quite simple actually; Emmanuelle, Franck and I just know which girls we want to work with – the most beautiful ones – and voilà, we usually get them. We hardly do castings any more. This year though we were between Lanvin and Dior, so we had to share the girls with them.
You are sometimes criticised for always creating very similar collections. What is your design philosophy?
Well, people come to me because my brand has a real identity. Of course it’s always similar, it’s my personality. It’s a perpetual reinterpretation of my style, of who I am and what I love. I have always loved mixing feminine, masculine, chic and sporty codes, so that particular taste comes up every season and goes further. It would be strange if my collections totally changed from one season to another. I think they have a continuity. They look alike but are never the same. That’s what ensures the authenticity of my clothes.