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Q&A: Catherine Malandrino

Catherine Malandrino came to New York from her native France 13 years ago and launched her own collection.

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Catherine Malandrino came to New York from her native France 13 years ago, fell in love with her future husband and business partner, Bernard Aidan, and launched her own collection, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this season. This fall — with a wink to the milestone — Malandrino is reissuing the iconic flag dress that put her on the fashion map, publishing a book with Assouline on her 10-year career and unveiling a new retail concept — a 6,000-square-foot Catherine Malandrino Maison in Los Angeles that features a boutique, library, cafe and garden.

WWD caught up with the designer between two fittings.

WWD: What does the 10-year anniversary mean to you?
Catherine Malandrino: I feel the 10 years mean only a first chapter of a long story.

WWD: Looking back, what were some highlights?
C.M.: The first show was a great moment. It was the flag collection. I met with Madonna because she wanted to wear the collection onstage, which right away put me on the map. Another show I liked was the Hallelujah collection at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. I also loved my Urban Queen show with Mary J. Blige singing at the end. And certainly, La Colombe, which reminded me of all my moments of happiness in the South of France.

WWD: What was the lowest point?
C.M.: It was both an emotional low point and a high point. The flag collection happened to be in the window of Bergdorf Goodman on Sept. 11. For me, it was an amazing start, but suddenly the world was collapsing. It was the most intense and painful moment. I felt very strange and it took me a while. It was the beginning of the Catherine Malandrino brand, with a lot of emotion. I felt torn.

WWD: Do you have any regrets?
C.M.: I want to say  “Non, rien de rien, non, je ne regrette rien” — Edith Piaf’s famous song. I feel that I have managed to have an exciting personal life and, at the same time, a successful career where I do what I choose to do.

WWD: Why did you choose to start your business in America?
C.M.: I fell in love in New York with the man who would become my partner in love and business. I am lucky it was New York and not Timbuktu because I would have started to design my collection anyway, and it wouldn’t have had the same impact.

WWD: Would you ever show during Paris Fashion Week?
C.M.: I design two collections: the Malandrino designer collection and Catherine Malandrino, the contemporary line. I feel I could show Malandrino in Paris and keep Catherine Malandrino in New York.

WWD: How did you come up with the idea of the flag dress?
C.M.: The story of the flag dress goes back to the first time I saw the movie “Easy Rider.” When I came to New York, I wanted to create an homage to the America that was making me dream about freedom, individuality, risk, fun and the open spaces.

WWD: What does it mean to dress patriotic?
C.M.: I am launching a book about the 10 years of Catherine Malandrino, edited by Assouline. For the cover, I chose an African-American woman wearing the flag dress. I believe in change and a new story and energy and a new dynamic, and I am very excited by things to come.

WWD: How should a potential first lady dress?
C.M.: The way she dresses is very important. I felt Hillary [Clinton], unfortunately, didn’t dress right during the campaign. The way you dress is the first way you express yourself. The choice of shoulder pad or no shoulder pad, or suit versus dress, says a lot about you. Michelle Obama has great style. She speaks to femininity with strength, which is the way I define my own code.

WWD: How is business right now?
C.M.: I feel lucky. In the fashion world, we hear every day that there are difficulties. But at the same time, I have been building things for the last 10 years, which keeps growing. I didn’t follow any guidelines or recipes. I did it my way.

WWD: How do you hope the Los Angeles Maison will change your profile?
C.M.: Los Angeles is more like a home I am building. It’s a place where people are going to meet, with a cafe for people to hang out and taste food. Inside, it will be very warm, with unique furniture designed by Christophe Pillet. It will bring the full experience of a customer and open us to all the different extensions that could be a lifestyle. Now that we have built this first 10-year platform, I am looking to licensing to develop the shoes, bags, eyewear and cosmetics. We are in discussions with partners worldwide to open franchises.

WWD: What’s the one thing — fashion or not — that you haven’t done and still want to do?
C.M.: I am very excited that I will do skydiving after the show. It’s one thing I haven’t done and am looking forward to.

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