It has been a long time since the Parisian River girl image was associated with the fashion system in France. Amidst the legacy of international haute couture fashion houses, new talents are emerging and making a space for themselves in the competitive French fashion scene. Stepping away from the canons of French aesthetics, upcoming creators are innovative and global, exploring contemporary styles and consolidating their couture heritage. Designs in ‘L’Hexagone have never looked so fresh.
The changing landscape in French fashion
‘Modern France’ is changing the French fashion look. Defined by France’s modern cosmopolitanism and urban reality, the new generation of designers is experimental but technical in their creations, reflecting the rising world of luxury streetwear and the modern evolution of formal wear. Haute couture and street influences mix and match with French glamorous character in high quality designs that speak of innate creativity and competitive skill standards. But the change doesn't end here. Emerging French designers, sometimes coming from very diverse backgrounds, remain part of the upcoming generation that is calling for a never seen before global inclusivity at all levels of the fashion industry. The shared objective of making accessible, representative, relevant fashion has lead to incredible progress in craft and show exploring the interdependence between fashion and sociocultural issues.
“Millennials in search of constant expertise add vitality to the subject [of couture, while] new technologies are a formidable ally to develop crafts and materials – [it’s] a ‘new’ haute couture for this new generation.” (Ralph Toledano, president of the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode, Vogue)
Following from our love of French fashion, here are five of our favourite emerging French designers (coincidentally all based in Paris):
SEVALI, Sebastián Albornoz de Ruffray
Founded and under the creative direction of Chilean-born Central Saint Martins graduate, Sebastian Albornoz, sustainable label Sevali is experimenting with “upcycled couture”: the repurposing of discarded material into high quality clothing, using inherent haute couture techniques. The brand works with different base materials for every collection, sometimes picked from selected objects at vintage markets, and sometimes from eclectic everyday items like flower printed mattresses, abandoned bus seats, or worn out sneakers. The core message here is to question the “obsolescence” and pollution of the current fashion industry by showing that there are other alternative and equally effective options available. Each garment is a reflection of the designer’s beloved childhood memories and the naive feeling of his adolescent years, coloured by a contemporary air with traces of Renaissance and classic aesthetics. His most iconic creations? A leather bag vest, a sneaker corset, and a deconstructed tablecloth day dress; reconstructed sophisticated inventions that establish their own rules. It is simple, light, impacting, and the true work of a designer who took his first steps in high-end fashion through the hands of Alexander McQueen, Tom Ford, Balmain and Vêtements.
A young Millennial, Charles de Vilmorin, is the founder and designer of this eponymous label that launched its debut collection on Instagram, no less. Recently graduated from L’École de la Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne, his style is the realisation of his unique flamboyance identity and his attraction for “the strange, the monstrosity, and the unsettling”. The first fall line is a vivid expression of this vision; maximalism in volume and without a definite gender, consisting of surrealist coloured puffed quilted jackets with patchworks of faces, hearts, and flowers. Matching skin-tight hand-painted leggings finish off the look. His explosive colour imagery, exuberantly poetic artistic vision and impacting personal brand immediately garnered the attention of young Millennials and fellow designer icons Christian Lacroix and Jean-Charles de Castelbajac, with reason; Art and Fashion never looked so good together. All of his designs are patch-worked, dyed, and produced in his home city Paris.
KOCHÉ, Christelle Kocher
Winner of the French Ministry’s 2019 ANDAM prize and another Central Saint Martins graduate, Christelle Kocher is the founder and creative director of the luxury streetwear label that is redefining the limits of couture heritage. Even before launching Koché, the designer’s fundamental training - which included the likes of Armani, Martine Sitbon, Chloé, Sonia Rykiel, Dries Van Noten, and Bottega Veneta - already pointed towards a promising future in fashion. Her upbeat and stylishly unconventional vision is rare, blending athletic cuts with the highest of artisan craftsmanship to create unique haute couture and street-sportswear hybrid experimental designs - think length dresses shaped by detailed embroideries collaged with lace and soccer jersey scraps, or asymmetrical silk skirts with oversized rugby shirts and lace underneath. The exceptional fabric clashes, cross-cultural contemporary styles and street influences coexist in an eclectic aesthetic harmony that speaks of Kocher’s Strasbourg roots and urban lifestyle, and their relationship with the world of luxury fashion.
“I’ve lived in Italy, in Antwerp, in London. I’ve spent a lot of time in New York when I was working for Bottega Veneta, and my perspective has long since gone beyond any Franco-French boundaries.” (Christelle Kocher, Numéro)
On top of her work at Koché, the designer is also artistic director at Chanel’s Maison Lemarié.
Pièces Uniques, Edmond Luu
Elegant monochromes and narratively lead visuals characterise Edmond Luu’s menswear ready to wear label, Pièces Uniques. Defined by complex technical constructions and intelligent fabric choices (nylon, waxed water repellent cotton, silicon), Luu’s designs are of French structure and refined style, but also adventurously daring and Brutalist inspired - an ode to his culturally rich childhood origins and his developed attraction for the luxe. He works to deconstruct classic pieces into new urban-couture interpretations with an adaptable 3D form and a hyper focus on the details, and this is how stainless belt buckles, tight straps, and frontal multi-pockets are treated as essential components of a matte fluid tailoring suit, a thermoplastic transparent puffer jacket, or a long trench with a sharp military silhouette. Garments become exclusive second skin items that tell compelling stories and powerful identities: ‘unique pieces’ not for the clothing, but for the models who wear them - be it the designer’s long-standing creative crew or his dear customers.
Pièces Uniques aside, Luu is also art director at Christian Dior Parfums.
Xuly.Bët, Lamine Badine Kouyaté
After some time away from the fashion spotlight, Lamine Kouyaté’s brainchild Xuly.Bët (roughly translated as “keep your eyes open” in the Malian-Senegalese designer’s native Wolof) is making a comeback. A big player in 90s fashion and winner of the ANDAM prize in 1996, the sustainable label operates through an up-cycling method - Kouyaté was one of its earliest advocates - that reshapes pre-existing, repurposed base materials (from flea markets, thrift stores, dead-stock fabrics) and combines them with parts of other garments to produce high fashion clothing. The street is his utmost symbol of inspiration and expression; an area for the birth of bold funky prints with feminine minimal lines and diverse, enlightening designs that echo an offbeat hip-hop culture aesthetic with retro references. Tie-dye dresses, tailored suits, skin-tight leggings and earthy plaid fabrics remind 50s timeless fashion.
His attire deconstructions are technical and measured, often disassembled at the seams to reveal the original labels (Xuly.Bët label is placed on the outside of the garment) and the structure beneath, in a process that is more akin to his background studies in Architecture than to clothing design. Kouyaté then stitches his personal branding into the clothing in the form of bright red loose threads that are left exposed at the seams, to reference the garment’s transforming process and the unifying power of blood. With experimental cuts, stitches, silk-screenings, and prints, Kouyaté creates revolutionary fashion that is eco-conscious and cultural, but also fierce and liberating for the modern woman.
“It’s an African - and any Third World Nation’s - philosophy to use things up. You don’t waste anything, but create new from old.”(Lamine Kouyaté, 1994)
The New Dream
France is a fashion hub, a creative stimulating environment, and its emerging designers are no exception. With fashion that is avant-garde and transforming, but also respectful and dedicated to the long history of French tradition, young creators are opening the exclusive Parisian scene to a wider and more inclusive public. Their style is game-changing, their inspirations diverse, and their attitude driven; they have all the makings to become Fashion’s new realisation.
Text: Carlota Pano