PARIS — Behnaz Sarafpour has the flu. She’s noticeably fatigued and dressed down in brown corduroys, a white shirt and black sweater. Nevertheless, she’s enthusiastic and ready to tackle her first day at Première Vision, where she’ll select fabrics for her spring 2007 collection.
“I could never not come,” she says. “It’s where I get a lot of my inspiration. But I’m not really here to look for specific things; I’ll look for things that are special and catch my eye.”
Still, Sarafpour admits she’s on the hunt for special embroideries and fabrics with detailed handiwork, which are always key to her line. She says her new collection will in “some way” be a continuation of what she showed three weeks ago for fall 2006 — a well-received, uberfeminine take on traditional American sportswear. “But I always like to introduce something new, and I’m here to begin to see what that new element will be,” Sarafpour says. “Some mills I go to for the over-the-top looks, while others are for the luxurious basics that are important to include in every collection.”
Her first stop is Swiss couture mill Jakob Schlaepfer, where vice president of U.S. operations Shkendie Kaziu entices Sarafpour with the company’s latest couture collection, which is bursting with wovens and prints adorned with intricate embroideries, as well as guipures and other laces with unusual surface decorations. “I usually pick more from the couture collection than the ready-to-wear one, and then work with the mill to change an aspect of the piece to make it more affordable,” says Sarafpour. “They’re very flexible here, which is great.” Lucky for her, that is, since she admits that Schlaepfer is one of the only mills where she makes sure to ask about prices.
After a quick glance, she selects five fabrics. One, a silk embroidered with silver sequins is “very clean and graphic, yet decorative at the same time.” Another is a black Chantilly lace embellished with white plastic, candy dot-like beads. “Schlaepfer always has things that are so luxurious but also have a great sense of humor,” she adds. Her last pick, a chiffon that’s tiered and shredded to look like feathers, really wows her, as it should — it’s almost $1,000 a yard, and, according to Kaziu, was recently used for Chanel couture. Sarafpour and Kaziu discuss options, agreeing on a look that will be redone in a price-friendlier, high-end cotton shirting.
Sarafpour uses lace in almost every one of her collections, so her next destination, Solstiss, is an obvious one. “Lace is timeless,” she says. “There’s always a way to use it in a collection, whether it’s as trim on a T-shirt or as an allover fabric for ballgowns and dresses.” Lately, Sarafpour has taken a liking to Solstiss’ lace patches, which are actually intricately embroidered pieces of chiffon. For her fall collection, they were appliquéd onto kilt-like skirts.
In addition to a few new patches, Sarafpour picks out several lace fabrics, many of which are quite simple. “It’s such a precious fabric and I like to make it unprecious,” says the designer, who has been known to place lace on wool coats and skirts, cashmere sweaters and jeans. “I try to use it in an unconventional way.” She is, however, drawn to one slightly embellished version in white, embroidered with ivory passementerie and lightly accented with crystals.
Next, Sarafpour heads to Bucol, an Hermès-owned silk mill and Solstiss’ sister company in the U.S. While it’s a go-to for traditional silk fabrics such as chiffon and taffeta, the textured looks are what catch the designer’s eye. She zeroes in on a tonal one in ivory, with a touch of Lurex metallic. “This is really simple but special at the same time, thanks to the bit of shine given off by the Lurex,” she notes. Sarafpour is also drawn to a metallic Ottoman moiré, and then a cotton with a leather-like finish. “The technique they used here is really unique,” she says, touching the crisp cloth. “It really does look like leather.” Before leaving, Sarafpour picks a faded, tonal print in an earthy palette on cotton voile. “It’s very soft and light looking. I like it mixed with something heavier, like this more structured fabric,” she says, pointing to a compact, double-faced cloth in cotton and silk.
Sarafpour’s last stop is Braghenti, a division of Ratti, where she likes to shop for “great cottons” and some other, more easy-going fabrics. “I come here for the more sportswear aspect of my collection — things that are more casual, but still special,” she says. Each of her choices here has a decorative element. Both a charming cotton and linen fabric and a pea-green fils coupé feature intricate border designs, and a lofty red and white cotton jacquard — one of the many two-tone looks she chooses — has an abstract pattern that gives off high and low effects. “Even with basic fabrics, there must be an added element to it, either in the design or the weave,” Sarafpour says. “The feeling is one of a refined basic, not something rugged.”