Isabel Marant visited Hong Kong for the very first time to celebrate her store opening in Central
and squeezed in some time in her busy whirlwind of schedule to speak to Tina Loves.
Tina Loves: I don’t know if this is still true, but I’ve read everywhere that you’re very ‘anti-consumerist’ and ‘anti-fashion’?
Isabel Marant: Yeah, I’m not the kind of person that’s going to be buying things just to buy things, just to own things. I’m not really into that. I like to buy very precisely for precise reasons. It’s not that I don’t like to buy things, but I always buy things for the right purpose.
TL: It’s funny how you’re so anti-consumerist, yet your collection causes a consumer frenzy amongst your fans!
IM: I think because I try to design what I would love to find myself, things that are a bit special that you cannot find just next door. It’s very important to bring a certain soul into your creation, to bring something else. It’s a part of me I try to offer. For me, as I was saying, it’s very important that I’m involved in everything that I am creating. That’s why I’ve still got a very small team, because I have to be behind every single thing that I am creating.
TL: So everything passes through your hands first?
TL: What made you want to design a diffusion line? Start Étoile?
IM: Étoile was started a long time ago already. You know when I started in fashion I was 20, and I was very into quite easy and casual pieces. I love sportswear, jeans and things like that. If you look at people on the street, most of the people are wearing a t-shirt, jeans and a pair of sneakers. It’s kind of the uniform of our century. They’re still the most comfortable pieces and you don’t even need to think about it. It’s something I’ve always loved and after a certain time, after doing fashion shows and more creative things, I was feeling that I was losing a part of my beginnings. I also started designing for older women and for the fashion shows, where you have to be more of a ‘show off’ in a way. It’s not always what I prefer to wear every day. So I thought I should launch a new line that corresponded a little bit more to what I was doing at the beginning. Also, the clients are smarter, they don’t always want to buy something that costs so much. So I think it’s important also to keep reasonable prices that people can afford.
TL: So your F/W collection, it’s very Americana. This trend seems to be catching on fire this season. What sparked this idea?
IM: It’s about a book I love that I found in the flea market when I was very young. It’s a book about rodeo girls from the beginning of the century. I was always very impressed by these women in the 19th century, wearing trousers when no women wore trousers. And I’ve always admired women who go against their time and fight to be themselves. I thought those women are kind of close to the women I’d like to dress up and so I wanted to tell the story about this book.
TL: It’s amazing how you started at such a young age! Most people these days don’t even know what they want to do when they’re 20…
IM: When I was young, I always had a very precise idea of what I wanted to wear, but I was not interested in fashion. I didn’t even know that ‘fashion’ existed. I was a tomboy when I was young and my parents would always buy me some pleated skirts and nice shoes that I hated. As soon as I could get out of my house, I had a little plastic bag with some shitty stuff that I robbed from what my mother and my father threw out in the garbage. Then I was redoing all of my father’s old sweaters and things like that. Sometimes they kicked me out of school, saying things like, ‘Nuh uh! You can’t come to school dressed like this!’
TL: So you didn’t have to wear school uniform then?
IM: No, we don’t have this in France. It’s quite rare. And step by step, I started to manufacture my own clothes, and some friends of mine said, ‘Oh it’s nice, can you make it for me?’ Then I started to sell it to my friends. So at the age of 16, I was kind of earning already by doing my clothes and that’s when I discovered fashion and I fell in love with the fashion world. Then I decided to study fashion and right after my studies I trained a little with some other designers, but I didn’t want to work for other designers because this whole fashion industry was getting a bit too much for me. I knew what I wanted to do, so I said, ok, I’m going to follow my instincts and do what I am feeling. Step by step, I built my company.
Male interviewer: What’s motivates you to keep going?
IM: The feeling and frustration that I have not yet achieved what I have deep in my soul. Fashion is something that goes very fast and you have a very short time to achieve a collection. I am never pleased.
TL: Will there ever be a point where you’re ‘pleased’?
IM: I don’t think so. I hope not, because if there’s one day I see my collection and I say oh, that’s perfection, then I ‘ll be frightened to do another one.
TL: So do you have any fashion icons or people you look up to?
IM: I don’t really have an icon. I think it’s too much of a fantasy now. I’m more inspired by the women on the street and it could be any woman. Sometimes it can even be a gesture. I remember I did a whole collection about a woman I saw going down to the metro station. She had a very nice neckline. I said okay, I want to work on her neck and see what clothing makes the neck come out. It’s very subtle what makes me want to do something or not. Of course when you come out of school, you are very schoolish, you have a theme, but you’re not disguising yourself, its just dressing up. I think it’s not realistic to have an icon. There are certain kinds of women I love, but they can be old women, young women, or any kind of woman, it doesn’t really matter. It’s more about the way we are living and what is our relationship to garments. Why you choose this piece over another. I mean now the world is totally crowded with fashion, with fashion images, it’s almost disgusting to me in a way. Being part of this industry, I have been asking myself a lot of questions, what is going to make a difference? Why are people going to buy my collection rather than someone else’s collection? It’s more about thinking what you are looking for when buying garments.
TL: So is there anyone you haven’t seen in your clothes that you’d love to see wearing your clothes?
IM: I don’t have this type of concern honestly. Sometimes I’m very surprised to see certain kind of women wearing my clothes.
TL: Like who?
IM: Like Victoria Beckham for example. She buys a lot of from my collections, and for me she’s not an Isabel Marant girl at all, but in a way she is and that’s pleases me a lot. Like Bernadette Chirac, the wife of our ex-president, she loves my blouse. She says to me, ‘oh, I love your blouse!’ and that’s very sweet to me. To find out that women I would never believe to have even looked at my collection to be buying my things, I’m very pleased about that. I want to give some joy. I think that’s what I like in my work. You can have such a good time wearing new clothes that you feel good in. I think that’s the aspect of fashion that I really love.
Male interviewer: Is there anything you would like to achieve for the brand?
IM: I think I’ve already achieved much more than I was thinking. You know I don’t have this dream about becoming a huge designer. I just work a lot, try to do my best and to be proud of myself. That has brought me to where I am today. It’s true that I’ve never had a big career plan or whatever. My aim is just to do what I’m doing, keep my beliefs, and if I’m able to go on, I will be very glad.
Male interviewer: How do you balance your work and family?
IM: It’s very scheduled! I share my life with a bag designer, Jerome Dreyfuss, so we have the same life. We share our week. On Monday, Wednesday and Friday, I don’t have to go back home at a certain time. I just go home whenever I want. He has Tuesdays and Thursdays. During the weekends, we don’t work. We spend our time with our family and friends. It’s true now, being a designer is almost like being a high level athlete. You have all these preconceptions about fashion. We smokes and drink and go out to the disco until 5am, but that’s not fashion. I think fashion people are the most healthy people! They do yoga. They eat organic. They wake up early. I can’t afford it, to be out every night. Otherwise I’m just too tired and I can’t work. So, really, every morning at 7:30am, I bring my son to school and at 8:30, I’m already in the office.
Male interviewer: What’s your ideal lifestyle?
IM: My lifestyle is quite ideal, because I’m working and doing what I love to do. I’m still able to save some weekends. I have a little cabin outside Paris in the forest without any electricity and running water. It’s very basic and it’s very reassuring to feel that you can live with almost nothing. So I like to mix a bit of my crazy life of fashion with a more reasonable way of life, like spending time with family and friends, cooking, gardening…doing very basic and domestic things.
Male interviewer: What do you think your appeal is here in Asia?
IM: I see Asians were always very curious about fashion. When I started about 17 years ago, there were no French editors or shops that would have looked at my design. The first ones who came to me were Japanese, then people from Hong Kong and then Koreans. I was very successful during my first 10 years due to the Asian market, because there was a real curiosity and because people were not following the trends from magazines. They followed what they liked. When in France, if you don’t have a big name and you’re not in the newspaper, nobody will look at your collection, because you’re just not known. In Japan and in Asia in general, they are just looking at the collections. If they are feeling it, they go for it.
TL: I think Asians like the Parisian feel of things and anything foreign, especially 17 years ago.
IM: Yes, I think there’s a whole generation of European designers who survived due to the Asian market. Now it’s changed a little bit, because Asia has been saturated with all the big brands came. I remember when I was travelling in Japan there was almost no Chanels or Vuittons. They did not exist then. There were loads of tiny shops selling designers that you would never find anywhere else and that was so much more interesting. Now, I mean, money is ruling everything…
Male interviewer: Do you think all these big brands here will sweep out all the little designers?
IM: Kind of, yes, because they have such power that they do not leave a lot of space for others. You can see that there are almost no new European designers. I remember when I started, we used to have a group of young French or European designers. Most of them has disappeared and now there are almost never ever any newcomers. There are new designers from America, but from Europe there are really no new brands. There’s Carven, there’s Anthony Vaccarello, but there are very few new designers. I think it’s very hard to make your way in between all those huge companies that rule the fashion world, that rule the magazines by advertising. It’s a tough battle. When you start, you don’t have any financial power. It’s almost impossible to succeed, which is very sad.
Male interviewer: Do you have any tips for designers just starting?
IM: To be very realistic. I think that’s what saved me at the beginning. I remember all my friends would do big fashion shows when they had no pay. They spent all their money doing fashion shows and crazy clothes that nobody would wear because they’re too crazy. They wanted to please fashion editors by doing very crazy stuff to make people notice them, but then it doesn’t have any commercial reality to it. In the end, if you don’t sell, you don’t bring in any money, so you can’t go on. So I chose to start with a tiny collection that was very wearable and I waited almost 5 years to do my first fashion show. I was very careful with how I did things.
Woman Interviewer: Fashion bloggers are much more powerful now. What is your opinion of the power of fashion bloggers compared to fashion editors?
IM: Honestly I can’t tell you much, because I know zero about this. I love that the ideas of the fashion world don’t just only belong to fashion editors, that there’s another voice that is much more spontaneous and free and not overlooked by financial matters. That I think is very important, but I think this is also true for many other subjects, like music or art. There’s this new freeness again that is coming up with the internet and that’s really interesting. On the other hand, there is also a lot of crap. So you have to find a right way to deal with that.
TL: I’ve got to ask you, do you ever wear clothing by other designers?
IM: You know sometimes I would love to, but now I am Isabel Marant. I cannot go in Balenciaga to my party tomorrow, so I won’t!