PARIS — Rushemy Botter and Lisi Herrebrugh could be forgiven for having a slight case of déjà vu: less than a year after making their critically acclaimed debut as creative directors of Nina Ricci, the design duo are showing their men’s wear label Botter on the Paris runway for the first time.
The brand already enjoys outsize visibility, having won the coveted Première Vision Grand Prize at the Hyères Festival of Fashion and Photography in 2018 and reaching the final of the LVMH Prize for Young Designers the same year.
Having relocated the label to Paris from Antwerp when they made the Ricci move, they’ve been presenting the Botter collection to buyers and press at their small courtyard studio in an unfashionable section of the 11th arrondissement.
The label is carried in 42 points of sale worldwide, including Boon the Shop in Seoul, Galeries Lafayette and Tom Greyhound in Paris, and H. Lorenzo in Los Angeles.
Herrebrugh said showing in Paris had been a dream since their student days. She graduated from the Amsterdam Fashion Institute, he from Antwerp’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts, where he studied under Walter Van Beirendonck and Dirk Van Saene, and garnered a string of awards.
“We’ve always had a lot of respect for Paris Fashion Week because of the level of sophistication, the way you need to be able to balance your creativity in such a mature way, so that was always very appealing to us,” she explained.
“Since we were appointed to Nina Ricci, this got a bit more realistic in our short time frame, but we waited a little bit because we wanted to focus on one thing at a time, because we feel like if we do something, it needs to be good and relevant. We think now we’re ready for it,” Herrebrugh added.
Botter admitted it took a while to find their feet, especially since the label functions with just one full-time staffer, a sourcing consultant and a couple of interns.
“We always had a lot to say, but we wanted to grow and mature a bit because we had the feeling we were not ready yet. We had a bit of the academic feeling, not edited,” he noted. “We feel that when we show in Paris, it should be a balance between creativity, but also a smart way of commercializing items.”
With roots in Curaçao on his side, and the Dominican Republic on hers, the pair are known for their powerful storytelling and gender-fluid clothing rooted in Caribbean culture. Oversize tailoring sits alongside conceptual pieces, such as a jacket with a detachable shoulder flap, or a plastic bag transformed into a plissé top.
“Every collection is a kind of experiment of us pushing something that’s a bit on the edge,” Herrebrugh said. “People are very interested in the more extravagant pieces.”
Case in point for fall: a jacket made from white wadding encased in embroidered tulle, or a pair of sleek black trousers sprouting what appeared to be tiny feathers, but turned out to be, on closer inspection, black plastic tags. It’s part of Botter’s spin on Arte Povera, inspired by the DIY approach of Caribbean islanders.
“This is for us an homage paid to them, because we kind of approach it in the same way,” Botter explained. “The main idea is that we try to approach everything in a more youthful way, telling older or heavier stories through our eyes.”
Herrebrugh added there was a serious side to it as well, reflected in the collection’s more subdued color palette.
“It’s our way of doing couture embellishments, but also couture shapes,” she said. “We take something that’s quite poor and try to make something rich. Arte Povera sometimes has a sad undertone, and I think that’s the spirit of the collection as well.”
This is most apparent in the accessories, designed in collaboration with American artist Adam Parker Smith, who’s known for his statues based on Mylar balloons. The bags in the show are in the shape of balloons featuring messages such as “Get Well Soon,” or an ironic “Happy Earth Day.”
“The collection is a reflection of how we feel in general, and there’s a lot of things going on in the world. I don’t know, maybe we didn’t feel so colorful at the moment,” mused Herrebrugh. “There are certain particular things that kind of bother us: how brands are kind of using sustainability as something that’s a selling point.”
While Botter doesn’t advertise itself as a sustainable brand, the designers often work with deadstock fabric and found materials. They salvaged the plastic tags used as embroidery this season from a company that had just closed down.
At the same time, they have benefited from their regular exchanges with the Nina Ricci atelier, where they have honed their technique. The brand is owned by Spanish fragrance and fashion group Puig, whose fashion portfolio also includes Dries Van Noten, Jean Paul Gaultier, Paco Rabanne and Carolina Herrera.
“It helped us in many ways. We understood in a very short amount of time the rhythm of creating a collection, the buildup in terms of fabric, in terms of shape, but also where can we find the right people to get the collection done in a certain way,” Herrebrugh said.
That expertise is particularly apparent in oversize pieces, such as a purple satin polo top with raw edges. “We’re not interested in making flat shapes. It was always constructed,” noted Botter. “This is something we saw at lot at Nina: these seams, creating solutions to make a piece float and not look heavy. It was an eye opener.”
Their tenure at the storied couture house, whose name is shorthand for feminine romance, has also trickled through into their fabric choices, including a flamboyant red and silver tweed. “We like that it sometimes looks a bit off-balance,” Herrebrugh said with a smile.
One area in which they seem to have achieved an enviable balance is in their working relationship. The pair have known each other for 15 years, and have been a couple for 11. They started working together five years ago, and have clearly delineated areas of expertise.
“Learning how to work together and having the boundaries of when are we chilling and when are we working, these kinds of things, we had that in the first two years and then after it went really smoothly,” Herrebrugh said. “We don’t focus on the same things because I love to be technical, he loves to be more storytelling,”
Botter said working in a team is easier than navigating the industry solo. “When you’re together, you make decisions faster,” he said. “It’s like falling, getting up. You learn a lot, but we still do it ourselves.”