Today marks the first day of Paris Fashion Week, the last city on a grueling parade of back to back shows from NYC to London and then Milan, with each city flaunting its unique taste for elevated streetwear, logo-ridden sportswear and technicolor furs. And though Paris is known for the very adult grander of Phoebe Philo’s Celine, Karl Lagerfeld’s Chanel and Rei Kawakabo’s Comme des Garçons, newcomer Simon Porte is steadily gaining shine and critical acclaim with his very youthful and fun womenswear line Jacquemus. Stocked at international retailers like Opening Ceremony, Dover Street Market and Maryam Nassir Zadeh, Jacquemus boasts a signature look that’s understated and clean, with clothes that can easily be imagined taking a spot in many girl’s closets. We caught up with Porte while preparing his spring 2014 collection, which he will send down to runway today, to discuss his style influences, minimalism and the raucous style of authentic French women.
How did you start designing womenswear? I was 19 and I just decided to do clothes. It was not in my mind to be a brand or to create a collection—I just wanted to tell a beautiful story and create a beautiful picture. I decided to do a film for each collection— a real story for each collection with a scenario. It was more important for me to tell a story than to make clothes. So I started like that, very spontaneous and naive. There was no reflection behind it. I didn’t know anyone in fashion magazines. I’m just a boy from the countryside in the south of France.
When you design for women, is there a specific female that you have in mind? Who is the Jacquemus girl? Yes. For me, in a way, my clothes are always a part of my mother– a very raw girl. The kind of girl who can wear her father’s suit. She’s kind of boyish, but at the same time she’s a girl—very French, not Parisian, but French in a good way.
Can you tell me about your mother’s style? She was someone with a crazy kind of style. One day she’ll wear an old antique white dress in linen. And the next day she’ll wear all pink, from the shoes to the jacket. When I was in school, it was a shock for my classmates. I loved it every time she came to pick me up. I was so proud of her, I was like, “Yeah, yeah she’s got it!” She was really raw and natural. The kind of woman that looked a bit like Laetitia Casta. Very French. Her style was never focused on one thing, but when she wants to wear something, she wears it. Even when she was 42, she was wearing miniskirts but not in a bad way, in a good way—fresh.
Describe the difference between Parisian style and French style. I don’t believe in the ‘Parisian girl’—I don’t know her, in fact. There are a lot of clichés about the Parisian girl, that the Parisian girl is more chic. A real French girl is a girl who speaks very loud. Every French girl I know is not afraid to speak up, she’s not this chic girl, you know. A real French girl is someone maybe more true and raw.
We hear so much about Parisian style, but what is the popular style in the south of France right now? I think it’s very Isabel Marant, very boheme and ethnic. Or it’s a mix of trashy, fake, Versace. Between bohemian and Versace Couture. They wear all the Nike items—it’s a mix, very trashy. But the girls from Marseille are famous in all of France because they like to be very trashy, they wear a lot of lipstick, a lot of big garments. In the south of France everything is a lot. You drink a lot, you wear makeup a lot and you speak a lot. Very Italian.
Your collections are very beautiful and elegant in a quiet way. Would you consider them minimalist? I’m not a minimalist because minimalism is “in” fashion right now. I’m a minimalist because when I started the brand, when I was eighteen or nineteen, I thought about what I liked, which is clothing with no detail. I am really attracted to this kind of silhouette. Some may describe it as very boring but for me it’s not boring, it’s like super crazy. For example, to see a girl wearing a full look in cotton. For me, it’s not easy or something you see everyday on the corner of your street. It’s something very strong for me. I don’t try to make a revolution. For me, I try to be sometimes boring, but in a good way. To me boring means very strong.
I’ve heard you say in interviews, when discussing inspiration for your collections, that the “inspiration stays the same, but the story and the character are different.” Please explain this for me. When I design, for me, it’s always the same story. It’s not like another collection, it’s just another part of the life of this character—the Jacquemus girl. I think it’s always like that for a designer, I’m not an exception. You try to express something and it’s always the same story.
With your clothes, your appreciation of your mother’s style and even down to the images of the lookbook, you see women as a raw, beautiful inspiration but they’re never on a pedestal. A girl for me should be walking on the street. Fashion for me is the street, not on a stage. I try to be real and humble with people, because it’s just my job and it’s just clothes. For me even though I love fashion and even [though] it’s my life, I try to make my work accessible to people—to everyone. I love when people understand what I’m doing and know my collection. For example my inspiration is very simple, you know. I’m not too much. If it’s a swimming pool collection, everyone can have the suit. I try to be accessible and kind of popular in a good way.