Talk about coming full circle.
In just five years, Simon Porte Jacquemus has gone from staging a street happening in front of Dior during Paris Fashion Week to winning the Special Jury Prize in the awards given by LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, the luxury conglomerate that owns the Dior brand.
This story first appeared in the January 20, 2016 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
His mix of guileless charm and sheer chutzpah has conquered such varied figures as Rei Kawakubo and Miley Cyrus. His designs, which he describes as “naïve, raw and smiley,” tap into a fondness for geometric shapes, often rendered in workwear fabrics. His shows, held in venues such as a game arcade or a swimming pool, riff on retro references inspired by his Provence upbringing.
I don’t see my fashion as clothes, so there is no point for me to do a show with clothes and models walking to pop music,” says Jacquemus, 25. “I was obsessed with always telling a story.”
The urge dates back to his childhood. “I was always doing theater, singing, dance. I was always in a role, like in a film. One day I was a lawyer, the next, I was a nurse.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Jacquemus did not last long at the prestigious ESMOD fashion school in Paris.
“I don’t know if you have to learn fashion,” he observes. “For me, it’s spontaneous.”
In 2010, at 19, he launched Jacquemus, prompted by his mother’s untimely death and named it for her ( Jacquemus is her maiden name). For two years, he juggled designing with his day job as a sales assistant at Comme des Garçons. Against the odds, the early stunts paid off.
“I stopped Emmanuelle Alt in the street, and one year later, she gave me a double-page in Vogue,” he recalls. “To be naïve is important when you start your own brand, because you believe in everything and you’re not afraid to ask. I was really not afraid to ask and to force people to look at my work.”
With photographer Bertrand Le Pluard, he has defined a kitschy-cool aesthetic that has earned him 185,000 followers on Instagram — think street-style muse Caroline de Maigret grooming a dog while wearing mud-spattered boots, or a karaoke video set to cheesy Eighties pop.
“The energy is the most important thing, not the rest. You can have a million and put a million in clothes, if you have nothing to say and no heart inside and no energy, it will be nothing,” he says.
Behind the artless attitude, however, lies a cool head for business.
Flush with a grant of 150,000 euros, or $163,000 at current exchange, and LVMH’s yearlong mentorship, Jacquemus has tripled sales over the last 12 months. Sources estimate annual volume between 1 million euros and 3 million euros. Prices range from about 350 euros, or $385, for pants to 700 euros, or $770, for a coat. The brand is carried in more than 70 points of sale, including Opening Ceremony and Dover Street Market in New York; Le Bon Marché in Paris; Selfridges in London, and Corso Como in Shanghai and Seoul.
“The collection is not that big, but what you see is what we sell. And we sell it because without selling, we cannot produce another collection,” he says. “We have no investor, we have no banks, we have no parents, we have no cats, so we are no one.”
Nonetheless, his New Year’s resolution is to recapture the childlike enthusiasm that has eluded him of late. “All my life, people have told me, ‘Simon, don’t be a kid anymore,’” he remarks. “But I think it’s quite good to see life with kids’ eyes.”