Hélène and Célia Faussart of Les Nubians talk about their new album, African fabrics, and jeans that fit.
This story first appeared in the April 10, 2003 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
NEW YORK — Tuesday in the music biz is big — it’s the day new records are released. On a recent Tuesday, French sister duo Hélène and Célia Faussart of Les Nubians launched their second album and wrapped up their 12-city tour for “One Step Forward,” which had the highest Billboard 200 debut of any French-language album in 20 years. They took time to sit down for a WWD photo shoot before heading to Paris to see family and friends. You can easily see that their warm, good-natured spirit is part of their success, which comes through in their funky, streetwise brand of R&B music.
Besides, what girl doesn’t like a chance to play dress up?
Les Nubians has been on the scene since their 1999 debut album, “Princesses Nubiennes,” which earned them the distinction of having the first French-language song to grab a spot on the American R&B singles chart with the track, “Makeda.” Their music draws from many categories — hip-hop, soul, reggae, R&B, Afropean — rendering a unique sound much like their own multicultural background and personal style. The sisters grew up in both Bordeaux, France and Chad, West Africa, daughters of a French father and a Cameroon mother.
“In Africa, there aren’t a lot of shops or brands, so we have things custom-made by tailors,” said Hélène, 29, who, along with Célia, 25, credits their mother for their fashion sense. After picking a beautiful and colorful fabric that Africa is known for, the girls choose a photo from a favorite fashion magazine like Elle and have it copied. “I had a lot of ‘Yohjis,’ whose clothes I love,” Hélène said. To this day, their mother, who lives in Cameroon, still has clothes made for the girls. Said Hélène of African style: “With nothing, the women can be elegant, even with a piece of fabric. In Africa, the outfit a woman wears is a means to communicate.” They sum up the African look as “creative and colorful.”
And French style is all about elegance and the classics. From their father they got their love of fine French tailoring and men’s wear suits. Often they would raid his closet for his “le smoking” and his shirts and ties. “I still sleep in a Lacoste shirt,” Hélène said.
Lately the girls favor a group of French designers like Xuly Bet, Baifall Human Dreams and Impasse de la Defense, who were all part of an “artistic squat” in the late Eighties called “L’hopital Ephemere.” They mainly wear these designers when performing.
For high-end fashion, the girls have many loves. For Célia, it’s Jean Paul Gaultier, Giorgio Armani, Gucci and Patrick Cox, and she would one day love to own a three-piece Yves Saint Laurent suit. Hélène loves Yohji Yamamoto, John Galliano (“he’s a genius”) and sweaters by Catherine Malandrino. “If I had to wear suits every day for business, I would wear Sonia Rykiel,” she said. “She is so chic.”
But the girls are equally inspired by American sportswear, and say American fashion is all about diversity and choice. They love large chain stores such as Zara, Banana Republic, Gap and Kenneth Cole, along with local vintage shops, especially those in Philadelphia. And they both love jeans. Célia says she owns about 10 pairs and likes Levi’s. She’s also in awe of the selection of kids’ jeans in stores like Children’s Place, Gap and Old Navy. “They have crazy jeans here for kids!” Célia quipped. Hélène, on the other hand, is a self-confessed E-Play fanatic, as it gives her the best fit. She also favors jeans by French sportswear company DIA and is often asked who made her jeans when she wears them. “I never find a pair that fits right,” she said. “Someone needs to make jeans for women like me with big, beautiful African behinds.”