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Three flights up a Parisian townhouse built in 1750, there are double doors on the right with a nameplate not much larger than a postage stamp. It reads “bouchra jarrar,” all lowercase.
This story first appeared in the May 29, 2013 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
The diminutive sign reflects neither the talent nor ambitions of the unit’s occupant, one of Paris’ brightest new fashion talents, who happens to have almost 20 years of experience under her belt.
The sign does, however, hint at her exacting, old-school approach to fashion, one that puts quality and technical finesse ahead of razzmatazz.
Since launching her signature label in 2010 during couture week in Paris, at the outset of Europe’s recessionary funk, Jarrar has accrued a cultlike following for her streamlined, elegant sportswear.
A petite, self-assured woman whose dark eyes stare out from behind extra-long bangs, Jarrar radiates confidence and humility in equal measure — much like her quiet, yet arresting clothes.
“I like to start with a blank page and to tell a story,” said Jarrar, seated in the modest foyer of her headquarters, appointed with two Arne Jacobsen Ant chairs, a minimalist daybed and a low table that holds a small bouquet of flowers. “It’s technique that drives my creativity.”
Jarrar does not create mood boards, nor pluck inspiration from other designers or existing imagery, preferring to summon “pure creation” when she is building her silhouettes with toile and pins.
Born in Cannes, France, Jarrar said she has always been fascinated by clothes and driven to train herself in the art of “collection making,” the approach of couturiers in the Fifties and Sixties such as Cristóbal Balenciaga and Gabrielle Chanel, who exalted women with their pristine and sculptural designs.
“I can assure you, even the simplest, most affordable top passes through my hands and is carefully studied,” she said. “And I can spend three days thinking about it before I start. That’s why I always say I work like they did in the old days.”
After graduating from Paris’ Duperré School of Applied Arts in 1994, Jarrar worked on Jean Paul Gaultier’s licensed jewelry collection for two years before arriving at Balenciaga under Josephus Thimister. When Nicolas Ghesquière took the creative helm, she served as his studio director until 2006, helping to create ready-to-wear collections that approached couture. She logged a brief stint at Jean-Louis Scherrer and then, eager to delve deeper into high-fashion techniques, joined Christian Lacroix in 2008 as couture head of design.
Lacroix, who exited his namesake house in 2009 when it shrunk to a licensing operation, lauded Jarrar’s determination to establish her name and house.
He described her approach to the business as “discreet, but intelligent and focused,” and her style as “sharp but seductive, simple but not poor, trendy but with her own specific view of today.”
Lacroix noted that Jarrar also assisted him on his last rtw collections, offering “a helpful sense of femininity, neat and clean silhouettes, a contemporary approach.”
Jarrar said she ultimately opted to launch her signature brand during couture because the calendar is less crowded, increasing the chances her audience might take the time to appreciate the subtleties and finesse of her precision silhouettes.
Her concentration on chic daywear stands out amidst a sea of frothy and grand high fashions that skew toward the red carpet.
“For me, getting the right balance of sophistication and nonchalance, that’s what makes a look very of-the-moment,” she said.
Jarrar’s collections are small — she paraded only 24 looks last January during couture — but her range runs the gamut from sweaters retailing for 595 euros, or $765 at current exchange, up to 50,000 euros, or $64,400, for a handmade coat or evening dress.
“I work on creating the ideal wardrobe, at all price points,” she stressed. “It’s very important.”
American retailers including Bergdorf Goodman and Ikram were among the first to snap up her collection. Today she counts 55 wholesale clients, a slice of elite specialty stores dotted across Europe, the Middle East and Asia.
“I don’t design for myself, or for some fantasy. That doesn’t interest me,” she said. “I design for women in general and I harbor no stereotypes about the ideal woman.”
Since striking out on her own, Jarrar has caught the attention of multiple talent scouts.
Last year, Mode et Finance, a French venture capital firm, took a minority stake in her label, and she was awarded the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres from the culture ministry. According to market sources, Jarrar has also been contacted for a variety of high-profile creative director positions, including Chloé and Yves Saint Laurent.
She declined to comment on past approaches, but noted she would be open to taking on another label should she be brought the right proposition.
Encouraged by strong orders for her successful fall collection, she’s ready to take the business to the next level and possibly take on an industrial partner, building her teams to prepare for a bigger international push, including reinforcing her capabilities for couture, which represents about 20 percent of sales.
“I’ve arrived at a juncture where I think I have expressed what I’m capable of,” she said. “Give me any fabric and I’ll find a way to express myself.”