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Fashion Designer | Paris
Effortlessly hip with a touch of bohemian chic, Isabel Marant is the cool girl’s go-to fashion brand. The Parisian designer shares the secret of her success.
Isabel Marant is one of the most stylish and successful names in fashion, but there’s one person who remains unconvinced by her sartorial taste – her 10-year-old son, Tal. “I cannot make him wear anything,” Marant says when we meet in her light and spacious studio in Paris. “Like most kids he wants to have things from Gap or Abercrombie & Fitch. He loves skating so he wants Vans or Nikes – he won’t wear another kind of sneaker.”
Nothing could be more antithetical to Marant’s own style, which prides itself on an eclectic individualism. Her clothes, a combination of androgynous chic and bohemian nonchalance, have been worn for years by in-the-know magazine editors and celebrities including Sienna Miller, Victoria Beckham and Alexa Chung.
Since the establishment of her label in 1994, her sales have increased 30% each year – quite a feat in the notoriously fickle world of fashion. But her collections remained beyond the price range of many ordinary consumers until 2013 when Marant’s collaboration with high-street chain H&M sold out within minutes of launching in November 2013. Shoppers queued throughout the night outside stores from London to Tokyo. The H&M website crashed under the demand. Soon, the most desirable items from the collection – fringed ankle boots, printed skinny jeans and textured sweaters – were making their way on to eBay at eye-watering mark-ups.
Was Marant surprised by the reaction? She takes a drag on her roll-up and shakes her head. “Not so surprised because my label is more approachable than some of the other labels they have done collaborations with.” But the eBay phenomenon, she concedes, is “crazy! I think people are mad with fashion.”
She talks in a great gust of energy, her English precise but heavily accented, her unmade-up face frequently breaking into a wide grin. At 46, Marant is at the peak of her success, yet she never intended to become a designer. She was born in a Paris suburb in 1967 to a French father who worked in advertising and a German mother who was a model and later a director of the Elite model agency.
Her parents divorced when she was six and Marant was “very rebellious”, partly as a result of having “a very beautiful brother. I was not beautiful and I had this kind of reaction, a way of showing myself I was existing, and very early on, at the age of nine or ten, I knew what I wanted to wear.”
She started restyling her parents’ cast-offs—dressing gowns, check slippers, old sweaters—and discovered her friends liked what she was making. At 17, she began to sell her designs to a local shop. Then she did a degree at the Studio Bercot fashion school. In 1995, she showed her first collection at Paris Fashion Week, using friends as models.
Her accidental route into fashion has left her with a healthy distaste for the industry’s absurdities. “Sometimes we give an image of life that will never exist, using models who are 15 and pretending they are 35 or 40, and when you are 35 or 40 you want to look like this when you will never be able to. So there’s a bit of a disconnect.”
Does Marant try to use real women in her catwalk show? She sighs. “I can’t – most of the girls [the model agencies send] are 15 years old. I try to use girls who have personality. When they walk in a room, I’ll think: ‘Ah! There’s something to this girl.’ It’s more a way of moving or being that means something to me.”
It is clear that Marant loves women. Her inspiration comes from “tiny details… Sometimes it can be the gesture of a woman who does this [she sweeps her long grey hair away from her neck]… And I see her neck, her shoulder, and I think: ‘That’s beautiful, I want to show that. So I start from that point.”
She has a habit of working with trusted friends – the CEO of her business is a former girlfriend of her brother’s whom Marant met at the age of 14. She likes being surrounded by people who will talk to her “honestly”. Her partner, Jerome Dreyfuss, is an accessories designer. Does she ever ask for his opinion? “No, never,” she grins. “Sometimes he will say ‘I hate that’ and I’ll say ‘I don’t care’.”
After an extremely busy 12 months, Marant says her resolution in 2014 is “to be more lazy”. Her fans will be hoping she doesn’t stick to it.
Photography: Inez & Vinoodh (Portrait), Isabel Marant
Interview: E. Day
Interview first published in RedVisitor Magazine: Issue One - Purchase Now
M O R E I N T E R V I E W S . . .