PARIS — Christelle Kocher, known for staging fashion shows in public venues like a bookstore and a shopping center, has found a tongue-in-cheek setting for her next cruise collection: a ferry.
As the special guest of the third edition of the OpenMyMed festival in Marseille, the designer will showcase her latest designs for her ready-to-wear brand Koché on board the Danielle Casanova, a passenger boat that regularly plies the route between France and Corsica, Algeria and Tunisia.
In parallel with the June 19 show, Kocher is curating an exhibition of her favorite artists, and showing a selection of her designs in the store windows of the city’s Rue de la République shopping thoroughfare.
“Christelle Kocher is the first woman to headline the festival. Her hybrid and multicultural approach to fashion chimes perfectly with the values of the festival,” said Matthieu Gamet, president of the Maison Mode Méditerranée, which organizes the event.
A graduate of Central Saint Martins in London, the designer has worked for brands including Dries Van Noten and Bottega Veneta. In 2010, she was appointed artistic director of Maison Lemarié, one of 12 specialty ateliers owned by Chanel through its subsidiary Paraffection.
Launched in 2014, her Koché label blends streetwear influences and references to contemporary art with the kind of upscale techniques usually reserved for handmade creations.
The brand is growing fast, thanks in part to its recent partnerships with Paris soccer club Paris Saint-Germain and The Woolmark Co., which have boosted its visibility. Kocher recently hired a full-time managing director and hopes to become a global presence.
Here, the designer — who will also headline the accessories jury at the International Festival of Fashion and Photography in Hyères — talks about her favorite artists, fostering new talent, and bringing her message to a wider audience.
WWD: You’re the guest of honor of the OpenMyMed festival. What are your plans for that?
Christelle Kocher: It’s a real honor to be invited and to partner with the city of Marseille. It’s one of the largest cities in France, but it has a very special history as the gateway to the Mediterranean. There’s an electricity there and an incredible mix of cultures. You have the colors of North Africa, but at the same time, there’s this whole French heritage and it’s very vibrant — a bit as if you had the city and the suburbs together in one place. The museum scene has been very dynamic since the opening of the Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations [Mucem] and the designation of Marseille as the European Capital of Culture in 2013. In fact, the south of France has always been hugely inspiring for artists, from [Pablo] Picasso to Le Corbusier or [Paul] Cézanne.
The moment you step from the train, the light just sucks you in and gives you this great energy. So we have this carte blanche. We’re going to present our cruise collection and there are some other surprises in store for our show on June 19. It will also be the starting point of an exhibition I’ve worked on with a contemporary art curator, Anissa Touati, that will showcase the work of eight artists. These are people whose work is linked to the brand, or simply touches me. There will also be items from the Koché universe dotted throughout the city. So it’s a three-pronged affair and the exhibitions will last until October.
WWD: Where will the main exhibition take place?
C.K.: At J-1, which is a new venue on the port of Marseille. The work will be displayed inside the space in a series of boxes, like windows into the world of each artist.
Obviously, it will feature Mehdi Meddaci, who has worked with me since the beginning, and who does all my campaign visuals. He’ll be showing a video. There’s Jesper Just, a video artist, who will show a film focused on a community and its work on textiles. There will be performances by Pia Camil, Lili Reynaud Dewar and Diego Bianchi. We’ll also be showing the  video that Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno made of soccer player Zinedine Zidane.
Then we have Yann Gerstberger, who will show tapestries, and Tarik Kiswanson, who has created mirror sculptures that look like fountains.
WWD: What can you tell me about your fashion show?
C.K.: The show venues always have a lot of symbolic meaning in my eyes. The choice of where I show the clothes is always very important in terms of what I’m trying to say. I was thinking a lot about where to do it in Marseille and what it would mean, but I won’t say anything further at this stage.
WWD: You’ve also been named as president of the jury for accessories prize of the 33rd edition of the International Festival of Fashion and Photography, which takes place from April 26 to 30.
C.K.: It’s a real honor, and it’s also something I take very seriously. I know the decisions we make will also have an impact on the future of these young designers, but it’s also a real opportunity for us to have an exchange, to give them advice and to help them.
I think it’s great they created this accessories prize, which is now in its second year, because accessories occupy an important place and today, there is a serious lack of specialized training in this field. To be a good accessories designer, you have to have a sense of fashion, but you also have to have a sense of objects and an even better sense of proportion, because on a shoe or a piece of jewelry, every millimeter makes a difference.
Luxury groups are already very present in the accessories segment, which is clearly the bread and butter of many large brands, but I really think there is room for smaller designers. That’s why I wanted to have people like Mansur Gavriel cofounders Rachel Mansur and Floriana Gavriel on my jury. They’ve been very successful with their bags, and I think there’s room for new brands with a strong point of view, a very clear vision and a fresh offer.
WWD: How do you feel about the frenzy surrounding new brands in Paris? It seems like ever since Vetements arrived on the scene, everyone is looking for the next big thing.
C.K.: I don’t know, I don’t really feel that.
WWD: You don’t?
C.K.: No — obviously, I see that there are more and more brands here, but to me, that’s a good thing. For a long time, people were talking about London or New York, they were talking about other cities, so I’m thrilled that my brand, just like Jacquemus and other brands, has been able to inspire a creative energy and that the press is excited about this town, which is becoming more cosmopolitan and drawing lots of new talents. I see that as very positive.
WWD: You are in a unique position, since your job at Lemarié allows you to tap into an exceptional reservoir of craftsmanship for your designs at Koché. Do you think this is unique for a streetwear brand?
C.K.: In fact, I don’t have any business links with the Chanel group. My brand is a separate entity and I am one of their customers, with a very specific set of technical specifications, because I have to be able to sell it — there’s a commercial reality you have to respect.
Obviously, there are more magical pieces that reflect my love, passion and desire to act as a bridge and to find a way to highlight and safeguard this craftsmanship in a contemporary and dynamic way, but I do it with a business brain.
I’ve been there for eight years and it’s true that it’s like a big family, and I have that access, but it’s because — unlike some people, though everyone has their own technical approach — I know how to cut clothes, I know how to sew, I can sew a dress on the bias, I draw, I know how to embroider. I’m extremely technical and at the same time, I have a very strong vision. I like to think about what it means to be a designer today, to represent a new generation, and how I can actively defend this heritage and what I love, and make it relevant for today.
WWD: Storytelling is a big part of your brand universe, whether through the fanzine-like booklets you distribute at each show, or the short films you produce. How did that come about?
C.K.: For me, there’s always a story that has a poetic, dreamlike quality, but that’s also profound and sends a strong message. I never do it in a militant or political way, but there’s always something powerful I want to express. When we did the show in the Church of Saint-Merri, or under the canopy of the Forum des Halles shopping center, it was a message of openness. These little booklets reflect my imagination. Instead of writing a press release, I like to share fragments of inspiration, a mood, artists and quotes.
WWD: This season, you were thinking about technology. How does that feed into the collection?
C.K.: I think it’s fascinating the way technology is part of creativity today. A phone or tablet have gone beyond simple everyday items. Nowadays, we use them as gateways to discover new artists, music, underground bands or more mainstream things.
I’m also fascinated by the development of artificial intelligence and all the research that’s happening. I was thinking how incredible it is that technology can also be a source of inspiration, poetry and new ways of thinking.
WWD: Are you working on any other collaborations following your partnership with soccer club Paris Saint-Germain?
C.K.: I haven’t met anyone else for the time being. I think you have to be wary of doing too many collaborations. As someone who is building a brand, it’s important for me to create a strong identity for the brand.
WWD: How is Koché performing?
C.K.: We have 65 points of sale worldwide and we’re growing all the time. I’m very happy because I’ve hired a full-time managing director who is helping me with the strategic development of the brand. His name is Jean-René Bouton and he joined us in December, having previously worked for Risto and Marjan Pejoski’s contemporary label KTZ in London.
WWD: What are your ambitions for the brand?
C.K.: To continue to develop the brand and turn it into a global business, by pursuing partnerships and artistic exchanges. I hope to continue staging events, like the shows we did in New York and Tokyo, and exploring. The brand is based in Paris, but we don’t consider ourselves a Parisian brand. We really have an international outlook.