For all the talk about propelling couture into the 21st century, the discipline remains the preserve of a tiny elite.
One designer challenging the status quo is Christelle Kocher, whose ready-to-wear label Koché, launched in 2014, blends streetwear influences and references to contemporary art with the kind of upscale techniques usually reserved for handmade creations.
Consider the flamboyant parka she wears for an interview: Made from a multicolored patchwork of downy feathers, it’s lined in plain gray jersey.
“Crafts really inspire me. It’s always really a starting point in my collection. I find it so great because the French have such a long history and culture around those crafts,” Kocher explains. “It’s something I really want to integrate, this history and these really old techniques, but in a really modern project.”
Not only is she revitalizing time-honored traditions, but Kocher made the results accessible to every- one by staging her first catwalk show in September in the Forum des Halles, the vast shopping center in central Paris popular with suburban teens. Modeled by a cast including several nonprofessionals, the show paired ruffled chiffon shirts with basketball shorts, and lacy slipdresses with baggy faded jeans. Tank tops and tennis dresses were richly hand-crocheted with rows of tulle, chiffon, lace, plastic, feathers, beads and sequins.
“The last thing I wanted was a fashion moment that was elitist,” she says. “There was a certain electricity during the show, and people were really happy.”
Growing up in the eastern French city of Strasbourg, Kocher started watching fashion shows on TV from the age of seven. By the time she was 10, she knew she would become a designer herself. Her role models are mostly designing women: Rei Kawakubo, Miuccia Prada, Madame Grès and Madeleine Vionnet, among others.
“I’m not a feminist fashion designer at all, but it’s true, I feel close to women designers and women artists, because I think they have a different relationship to fashion,” she notes. “When you’re a woman and you design women’s wear, it’s different.”
At 37, the Central Saint Martins graduate has an impressive CV, with stints at Emporio Armani, Martine Sitbon, Chloé, Sonia Rykiel, Dries Van Noten and Bottega Veneta. In 2010, she was appointed artistic direc- tor of Maison Lemarié, one of 12 specialty ateliers owned by Chanel through its subsidiary Paraffection.
She has set about modernizing the storied maker of feathers and flowers, founded in 1880, by bringing in younger staff. The next step was setting up her label, which is entirely self-funded.
“When I started in fashion, I always knew I would do my own brand,” she says. “I have the experience. I know exactly what I like, what I don’t want. I have the vision and also, that’s really important for me, I can be independent financially and can just do and propose what I want. I feel like it was really the right time for me.”
Kocher is about to launch her debut jewelry line with Goossens, another Chanel-owned business, and is mulling the introduction of men’s wear. The designer clearly has big ambitions.
“Ten years from now,” she says, “I hope that Koché will be set up internationally and be a reference in fashion.”