PARIS — Paul Van Haver – aka Stromae – the Belgian singer-songwriter who rose to fame with his 2009 single “Alors on Danse” (or “So We Dance”), is extending his playful, gender-fluid fashion sense to a collaboration with Repetto under his Mosaert clothing brand.
Built on print-heavy, made-in-Europe unisex capsules hooked on polo shirts and socks, the clothing label – cofounded with his stylist wife Coralie Barbier – launched around the time of the artist’s “Racine Carreé” (or “Square Root”) album in 2013, and for the first two seasons was built on Van Haver’s own pop-dandy spirit tumbling together African and English country-gentleman influences. Its moniker is an anagram remix of the word maestro, on which the singer’s stage name was also based.
But at a preview of the unisex Repetto shoes (two styles in total: a printed lambskin slipper and a printed goatskin slipper embroidered with flowers), the slender framed, soft-spoken Van Haver, who was born to a Dutch mother and Rwandan father, and raised in Brussels, said they are keen for the brand to have its own identity away from his stage persona. The latest dance-inspired capsule comes splashed with exotic vegetation and ballet-shoed flamingos. Retailing at around $365 and $420, respectively, the Repetto shoes will launch on the Mosaert e-shop on March 31 before rolling out on the Repetto e-shop, at Le Bon Marché and handful of Repetto stores internationally on April 1.
Also present at the preview was Repetto chief executive officer Jean-Marc Gaucher, who when he acquired the ailing brand in 1999 reignited it through a stream of designer hook-ups, including Issey Miyake, Comme des Garçons and Yohji Yamamoto. Countless designers followed suit, from Karl Lagerfeld to Olympia Le-Tan.
This time, it was Van Haver who made the call, said Gaucher.
“We’ve worked both with the big names, who have helped bring visibility, and with young talent, and when this young man called proposing something different, I knew it would make for an exciting challenge for the craftsmen,” said Gaucher, adding with a wink. “It was Mosaert, after all.”
Van Haver and Barbier chatted with WWD about androgynous fashion, inspirations and their vision for the Repetto tie-in.
WWD: How has it been for you to go into fashion design?
Paul Van Haver: I’ve always been interested in [fashion], but didn’t know anything about the technical side of it, the missing link to be able to do my own clothes.
WWD: Coralie studied fashion design. What do you bring to the table?
P.V.H.: Naïveté, and a masculine vision of the woman’s wardrobe.
WWD: You have a distinctive sense of style. What were your influences growing up?
P.V.H.: Even in my hip-hop period, when I wore baggies, I knew exactly what I wanted. I wanted the baggies, but not the gold chains. I suppose it comes from the culture of music videos, that’s how I discovered fashion in the beginning. The Bad Boy family and [Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs] in his baggy leather jackets, or seeing one of the guys from the Wu-Tang Clan in this supercolorful jacket with a DuPont logo, even if I don’t like logos normally. They’re my first memories. Then I did film school and discovered all these other things outside of the hip-hop world.
WWD: And Paul was the label’s muse at the beginning?
Coralie Barbier: When I met him he still had that look of bow-tie, British school uniform, slim but bright colors. So he already had this mix of classic fits and bright colors. He was working on an album and wanted to customize his sweaters with African wax prints, so I suggested it would be more interesting to create his own fabrics, his own interpretation, mixing in other influences. We found a group of graphic designers to work on the motifs, but we soon felt that we wanted to start sharing the pieces with others. The aim was to detach the brand from his musical projects.
P.V.H.: We didn’t want to do merchandise. I would never want to sell T-shirts with my face on them. And if, at the end of a concert, there were these $100 polo shirts, people just wouldn’t get it.
WWD: Are your fans your main clients?
C.B.: To begin with they were, because we had these “Papaoutai” [the name of one of his hit singles] polo shirts, but now we’re seeing a real shift, with the brand gaining its own followers.
WWD: The unisex nature of the collection is bang on trend. Are gender-specific clothes no longer relevant?
P.V.H.: Things are continually evolving. I’ve always been inspired by women’s wardrobes. Personally, it comes from my own frustration at not being able to find [slim] cuts, and I feel that fashion doesn’t go far enough for men, especially in shoes.
WWD: Hence Repetto….
P.V.H.: Repetto is one of the rare brands that offers the same styles for men. You can have an ultra-elegant, fine shoe with a sole that’s only 1 or 2 millimeters, and you’ll get the same for men. There’s not a cosmonaut version for men. When you’re slim like me, it’s not easy.
C.B.: Paul is very in touch with his feminine side.
WWD: Does the unisex approach speak to Millennials?
C.B.: I think it will become more and more accepted that men can wear more feminine pieces. Look at Gucci, with their lace shirts for men. For us, it’s more this feeling that we’re part of a generation where things are changing. But we’ve also seen that older men want to be able to dress more colorfully and, apart from ties and socks, there’s not much choice. We have a lot of 40-year-old male customers.
WWD: What was the experience of working with Repetto like?
C.B.: It was amazing, we were given total freedom. We loved the idea of seeing our prints on the shoes and creating a total look. We wanted, nonetheless, to keep the Repetto know-how, like the stitch-and-return technique. We also wanted a covered heel, but the form remains classic, in line with the Zizi shoe that was worn by Serge Gainsbourg.
WWD: Mosaert is an umbrella label under which you produce music videos of all sorts. What’s your ambition for the clothing line?
C.B.: Each new capsule brings a new element. We would like to start going into home furnishings, that it becomes a lifestyle brand. As for the other parts of the label, we try to do what we did with Paul for other people.
P.V.H.: We’re doing a lot of music videos. There’s one we just did for Major Lazer [for the track “Run Up,” featuring Nicki Minaj and Party Next Door]. It’s more like an agency of ideas, a creative agency.