PARIS — “Don’t wear heels,” said Simon Porte Jacquemus, who later today will show his first men’s collection on a secluded beach in one of the hidden bays of the Calanques, the rocky inlets around Marseille and nearby Cassis in the South of France. For the designer, who likes to go swimming in the remote spot, it’s “one of the best places on earth.”
“It’s a dream. You don’t feel like you’re in Marseille anymore. It feels like Greece, it’s so spectacular, with the rocks and the azure waters,” he said.
So what about the seating? “Blue towels. The set will be so pure: just blue towels on a huge beach,” added Jacquemus.
As the latest designer to stage an event in the South of France, following Louis Vuitton and Gucci’s recent cruise shows in Saint-Paul de Vence and Arles, respectively, the maverick talent, whose sun-soaked universe is deeply inspired by his upbringing in Provence, is cognizant that setting a show some 500 miles from Paris, the day after Europe’s men’s season wraps, is a tad cheeky. But — even if it was a logistical nightmare securing access to the remote site — he wouldn’t have it any other way.
Besides, Jacquemus has never been one to fit in a box. The young Frenchman kickstarted his career in 2011 by staging a happening in front of a Dior show during Paris Fashion Week, complete with models brandishing “Jacquemus on Strike” signs. His other show venues have included a gaming arcade and a swimming pool.
“I know it’s a big thing. I know people have thousands of shows to see. But for the first men’s show, I was prepared to not have a lot of people make it,” he told WWD during an interview at the Café Français in Paris a few days before the event.
For the designer, whose women’s line has become synonymous with the La Bomba character introduced for spring 2018 based on his mother’s sultry beach style, the choice of location is important for reinforcing the brand image. “I’m from the South of France; this is my aesthetic,” said Jacquemus, confessing that the idea sparked resistance from some of the members of his team.
“I was like, no, no. I’m doing it, even if my grandmother is the only one on the beach,” he said, adding that all of his family will be there. “If you see a woman looking in the wrong direction, that’s my grandmother.”
Like La Bomba, his men’s collection — titled “Le Gadjo,” which translates as Gorger, meaning “non-gypsy” — will also have a local flavor.
“He can be the kind of guy you see jumping from the rocks in Marseille, or the guy who goes to a wedding in his perfect white shirt, a bit chic but Marseille-chic, with too much jewelry,” he said. “In Marseille, you have those guys in the matching yellow pants, hats, wallets — almost too perfect and flashy. And then those kids who are wearing total-look Lacoste. I’m trying to explore that in a poetic way.”
The sports-mad designer, whose own uniform is Carhartt pants, army T-shirts and “big Nikes” (or Timberlands in the winter), said he doesn’t identify with the perfect image of men presented in fashion shows and campaigns. He described his own approach as being more “straight to the point.”
The designer’s teaser for his men’s collection on Instagram featured a shot he took of French rugby player Yoann Maestri — “the first Jacquemus man” — in a pair of white shorts, with a matching white dog, on rocks by the sea.
For Jacquemus, it perfectly captured the mood of his first men’s effort, described as “something simple that will speak to people: he’s just wearing white underwear.”
The designer at his show will present a full collection, covering all the categories, including ties, underwear, jewelry and accessories.
While his supersized La Bomba sun hats and Espelho mini bags “that you can’t fit anything in” figure among bestsellers from the women’s line, he’s not looking for a copycat format for men’s.
“Maybe the big oversized bag of the collection will sell the most, I don’t know. I’m not trying to repeat the rules for men’s. We buy differently, I feel. There is the same market for streetwear, but for the rest, it’s not the same market. We don’t have the same bodies,” he said.
Jacquemus has still dreamt up some conceptual pieces that are bound to fly, like a hanging wallet — “a classic men’s wallet, but that attaches to the body in a new way.”
The models in the show will walk along the beach barefoot, in sandals or sports shoes. “It’s not going to be extreme design — it won’t be a ruffled shirts with polka dots, so it was important to have all the categories well-defined, because all together it means something,” he said.
He’s also working on men’s and women’s scents, though it’s too early to share details.
The men’s wear will include iconic sportswear pieces reinterpreted in a more luxurious way, he added, citing a sweater in a chunky knit in lieu of jersey as an example.
The Woolmark Company, which has accompanied Jacquemus for the past three seasons, also supported him on the sourcing and manufacturing of materials for his men’s collection. Labels for both brands will feature on the pieces they collaborated on, using summer wools.
The collection is focused on wearable pieces with hidden details — the way things fasten or special color treatments. Items will include a cotton artist’s smock, like the kind of thing Pablo Picasso would have worn.
“It’s very important in the Jacquemus business and my strategy that everything looks accessible and simple,” the designer said.
Other nods to Frenchness will be his use of the tricolor red, white and blue, like in the fall 2013 women’s show presented around an indoor swimming pool in Paris. Tailoring will include classic double-breasted suits, but with shorter fits. “When I started the women’s collection it was really masculine, in a way,” he said.
The trigger for launching men’s, he said, was falling in love with a guy. Suddenly, the designer said, “I wanted to speak about men. It was clear to me for the first time.
“Everything I do is for a reason. I’m not doing men’s just to increase sales, I’m doing men’s because I fell in love and it was inspiring for me. Probably, when I have kids, I’ll add a kid’s line. But I can’t plan,” said the designer, who has seen revenues double every year. In 2017, the Jacquemus brand generated total sales of around 8 million euros to 9 million euros, he said.
Jacquemus, who owns 100 percent of the company, which counts roughly 200 points of sale worldwide, and recently relaunched its web site, also manages the brand’s business, with support from financial advisers and a director of operations.
“For me, it’s simple: If you don’t sell, you don’t do a good collection, you will have a lot of problems. I started with no money, so I had to sell my collection in order to make my second collection. And the business is still run this way,” he said.
On the subject of one day landing a position at one of the major established fashion houses, Jacquemus repeated what he told Anna Wintour when she asked the same question: “I told her I already have a big house, the one named after my mother, and it’s called Jacquemus. She was like, ‘Hm.’ I think she liked the answer.
“When I see the 10 most searched houses, I’m one of the only independent houses on the list, alongside Dior, Chanel, Balenciaga and Saint Laurent,” added the designer. “I know I’m not on the same scale, that I’m a little boy. But I want to be the next big house, and I believe in it.”
Every week Jacquemus is approached by people looking to buy his company, he said. But the designer, who likes to go to his studio by bike and has a fierce work ethic, relishes his independence. He held down three jobs at the same time to start his company.
“The other day, a guy was ready to buy the whole thing. I could be rich, but I have no interest,” he said. “You can write it in capital letters.”
Opportunities have also come up involving major gigs with major salaries, which have sometimes kept him awake at night, he said. But when in doubt, Jacquemus knows who to call. “I call my grandmother, and I know that the real question is, ‘Are you happy right now?’ ‘Yes.’
“What could ruin me is to want more and more, but not the good more and more. This is not what I’m in it for…I’ve seen so many people who I admire, who have everything, seem so unhappy. And I don’t want to become like that,” he added. “There are so many things I want to change: I want more people, a bigger space, but at the same time, I’m free.”
In terms of his men’s display today, Jacquemus hopes fellow southerner Christian Lacroix, who has attended one of his shows in the past, will make it.
Jacquemus, who launched his label after dropping out of fashion school at the age of 19, prompted by the untimely death of his mother (whose maiden was Jacquemus) also has a lot of admiration for Jean Paul Gaultier.
He started making clothes as a kid. “I was obsessed by creating stories. I would make these ugly pieces — skirts for my mother made from cut-up curtains that she would wear on the school run,” he said.
And at age 12, he sent a letter to Gaultier. “I said: ‘Hello, I’m Simon. I’m 12 years old, and if you hire me for your team, I’ll be the youngest designer in the world and it will make you very popular,” Jacquemus said with a laugh. “I told him about it recently, and he said, ‘Oh, you already had a sense of communication.’”
When asked if he could picture going coed for shows, the designer replied: ”That’s a big question. I know exactly who they are separately, and the woman of course is getting more and more sophisticated. Right now, it would be hard.”
It’s going to take a while to flesh out his vision of the Jacquemus man. This being his first men’s collection, it’s still very “naïve,” he acknowledged, just as the woman’s collection was to begin with.
“I had an exchange with my team yesterday and told them: It’s my first men’s collection, there will be a lot of mistakes. But I love the mistakes of my women’s collections,” he said. “I can’t afford to make that many mistakes as I’m a [more established] brand now, but I’m not a machine. I’m human, and I’m learning. This is my first men’s collection, but I’m happy about it.”