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PARIS — Inès de la Fressange is keen to bring her trademark French chic to the world.
The Roger Vivier and L’Oréal brand ambassador this week marked a major step in the revival of her namesake line with the launch of a clothing collaboration with Japanese retail giant Uniqlo.
The line went on sale in France today and will be rolled out to the majority of Uniqlo’s 1,300 stores worldwide and online by March 20.
Sitting in Uniqlo’s Paris showroom, the former face of Chanel traded light banter with Uniqlo design director Naoki Takizawa, with whom she has been working on two follow-up collections for fall 2014 and spring 2015.
Takizawa, the former creative director of Issey Miyake, noted it was the first time Uniqlo had joined forces with a “fashion icon” (de la Fressange’s 2010 style guide “Parisian Chic” has been translated into 17 languages and sold more than a million copies worldwide.)
“Many brands are working with other designers, but in this case, Uniqlo is cooperating with a customer — albeit a very special customer,” Takizawa noted. “She brought us the familiarity with how women wear clothes and also what they need. This is a very important point of view for the brand.”
The partnership also marks the first step towards bringing back an Inès de la Fressange ready-to-wear line. Having launched the brand in 1991, she lost the rights to her name in 1999 but came back to the label last year, after it was bought by a consortium including Dubai-based The Luxury Fund.
Switching seamlessly between English and French, de la Fressange sat down with WWD to discuss style, saucepans and becoming the French Martha Stewart. Here are some highlights:
WWD: What does it feel like to see your name on a clothing label again?
Inès de la Fressange: It makes me happy, because over these last few years, I was seeing it, but not necessarily on products that I liked. At the same time, at my age, I no longer have an ego. If people buy these clothes without realizing that I designed them, I don’t mind. My rather selfish aim was to make clothes that I wanted and that I enjoy wearing. I didn’t want this to be a publicity coup, a partnership that generates a ton of mentions in newspapers and on Twitter and Instagram, and then there’s nothing in store. This is a real collection with 70 references.
WWD: Does this collection give us an accurate vision of the future Inès de la Fressange clothing line?
IDLF: For the Inès de la Fressange brand, I’ll want to design lifestyle objects, home wares and maybe children’s clothes, too. But in terms of the ready-to-wear line, [the Uniqlo line] is genuinely what I love and it reflects my vision of things. To be honest, I would have liked some dressier embroidered evening pieces, which obviously are difficult to produce at low cost. But the idea is to give women solutions for feeling good, getting dressed in a hurry and looking modern without being dull. It’s a kind of philosophy for people who like clothes more than fashion. In fact, all of this is Karl [Lagerfeld’s] fault. One day, we were in the studio at Chanel and I was asking for my dream version of a coat, and he said, ‘Why don’t you make a drawing, it will be simpler.’ He was very nice, because he showed me that you have to draw the seams, the buttons and the pockets, because otherwise, the atelier will never get it. He was correcting my drawings, and then he said to me, ‘One day, you’ll have your own house.’ And I told him, ‘I might be able to make very wearable, classic, slightly casual things, but I could never do what you do.’ So he said, ‘But that in itself could be a concept.’ He was the one who planted in my head the idea that the things that I love, that I know how to do and that I want to wear — that could be a concept.
WWD: Does being a kind of global ambassador for French women carry a special set of responsibilities?
IDLF: It’s the opposite. It’s because people kept bringing up Parisian style that I started to think about it, to wonder if there was something to it, and that’s how I ended up with this reputation for being the ultimate Parisian. I didn’t choose it, but I’m very proud of it. But I think there are a lot of preconceptions. For example, there is this idea that elegance means wearing high-heeled shoes, a hat and gloves. Whereas in fact, wearing sneakers with more sophisticated pants, or mixing day and evening wear, slightly unexpected things — that’s what’s really interesting. But it’s never elegant to be too self-conscious. And when I see myself described as a fashion icon, it’s flattering, but it also makes me smile. The other day, for example, I went to the Chanel show and everyone was asking where I got my jacket. I had bought it from a mail order catalog.
WWD: Don’t all these books written by foreigners — like “French Women Don’t Get Fat” and “French Kids Eat Everything” — put terrible pressure on French women to be perfect all the time?
IDLF: I think they are under less pressure than American women. When you go into the offices of an American fashion magazine, all the women have this amazing look. At a French fashion magazine, you can’t even tell the women work in fashion. In some countries, women worry about being perceived as fashionable, whereas in France, there is a kind of arrogance in thinking you can look chic even without designer clothes. I think in some countries, if you can afford designer clothes, then you only buy designer clothes, whereas in France, people are into mixing things. The big difference is that French women dress to please themselves, and you don’t have that notion of showing off your wealth or wearing the latest trend. In fact, if you tell a French woman you like her jacket, she is liable to answer that she’s had it for years. It’s like she’s trying to show she doesn’t care. It’s a different mentality. People want to show they’re not frivolous, but that they still have a sense of style.
WWD: With the launch of your lifestyle brand, are you positioning yourself as France’s answer to Martha Stewart?
IDLF: My problem is that I’m interested in everything. I’m interested in working on all sorts of products, because what I enjoy is making the mundane beautiful. Obviously, I’m interested in home wares. Why not design some saucepans? It depends how and with whom. I’m not a snob in that regard. But the priority is launching an Inès de la Fressange clothing line. I would really like to open a store that would carry both my designs and things I have selected. Why not give young designers a helping hand? Because nowadays, with people working either for big luxury houses or high street chains, I think it’s very hard for those little labels in between — and that’s kind of a shame.