French queen of cool
Isabel Marant is her own muse. Her breezy, carefree look has made her one of the most influential names in fashion. Deirdre McQuillan surveys the young French designer’s creations
Above: Isabel Marant (left) and Margareta van den Bosch, creative driector of H&M
‘A certain carelessness is . . . very Parisian. You dress up, but do not pay too much attention and still look sexy. [My] collection is infused with this kind of easiness and attitude.”
So says Isabel Marant of her forthcoming collaboration with H&M, due in shops in November. The young French designer has mastered a breezy, carefree look that combines urban sportiness, bohemian elegance and a bit of rock’n’roll, and has become one of the most influential names in fashion, endlessly copied by the high street. The clothes are feminine but with a masculine and occasionally ethnic edge. Her wedged sneakers (that lengthened the leg), launched last year, were an overnight phenomenon, igniting a craze that is still firing.
Having started her own line in a small way in 1994 – her shows in Paris have always drawn out the city’s jeunesse dorées in their droves – she is now an international heavy-hitter with a turnover of €62 million in 2011, four stores in Paris, one in New York and a boutique in the UK on the way. Her fans include Maria Sharapova, Kate Bosworth, Victoria Beckham and Katie Holmes among many others, but it is her own personal style and cool girl label that has endeared her to women on both sides of the Atlantic.
Among the first to spot her potential at a trade fair in Paris 14 years ago were the Tuckers of Costume in Dublin, who have been stocking her collections ever since. “She was different to the others, young, smart and very good at putting things together. She was able to mix things up that didn’t match, especially the clothes she wore herself,” recalls Billie Tucker.
Over the years they have seen her business grow. “We stock both her main line and the less expensive one called Etoile, as well as her footwear. We have a waiting list of 82 for the wedged sneakers,” Tucker confides. This footwear comes with hefty price tags, the suede Diker boots and Bekket wedged sneakers at €435 and €520. In recent seasons Brown Thomas has also added Marant to its growing French collections and it’s available in Samui in Cork.
Raised in a chic area of Paris, Marant hated fashion and only became interested as a teenager when she was so besotted with Vivenne Westwood’s anti-fashion clothes that she would save up her babysitting money to buy them. Later she started to make her own clothes, studied fashion in Studio Bercot and eventually decided to start her own label in 1994. She has often said that she is her own muse. Billie Tucker remembers that her clothes always reflected her situation. “When she was pregnant, I remember that her collections were a little looser and as the years went by her manufacturing improved.”
Last winter Marant’s “hoedown” collection was a new take on cowboy trappings with prairie dresses, Navajo blankets and boxy jackets for a city girl. Her ‘Elvis meets Hawaii’ for spring was another hit, but for winter, the colour palette – grey, navy, ivory and black – is darker, with stretchy skirts over leggings and fine gauge and ribbed knits. “I made this collection with many thin fabrics and some are sheer, some have prints you can put underneath . . . it is inspired by miserable days and nights in winter when you don’t want to go outside,” she told Elle. How to look good but keep warm is about “les feuilles” (the layers), she said.
Familiar to her style are fabrics that are soft and overwashed, blazers that are textured, loose knits and slouchy trousers. Although hemlines in the winter collection are very short, these little dresses can be worn over leggings. Her own personal signifiers are a good leather or fur jacket with a small fit to be worn over a T-shirt or dress, a pair of tight jeans, a big sweater and a good coat. “I’m very feminine”, she told an interviewer, “but I always need to break it with something very masculine”.
Marant and her husband, accessories designer Jerome Dreyfuss, have a 10-year-old son and a country retreat near Fontainbleau where a strict ‘no fashion talk’ policy is enforced. Her collection for H&M puts her in the ranks of other collaborators such as Lanvin, Stella McCartney, Marni and Versace and will be highly anticipated when it arrives on November 14th. In the meantime her winter collection is hitting the rails at Brown Thomas and Costume in Dublin, where there may still be some sales items left.
One dépôt vente in central Paris that always has second-hand items by Isabel Marant is Les Ginettes off the Boulevard St Germain, at 4 rue du Sabot, Paris 75006. According to owner Alice , it is their premier label along with items from Vanessa Bruno, See by Chloé, Maje, Claudie Pierlot, Celine and others, lesginettes.net The shop is a treasure trove for bargain hunters with accessories, furniture and glass