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On Christophe Lemaire

Menswear writer David Hellqvist talks sportswear versus luxury goods with the French designer and finds out what iconic musicians inspired his current collection

 

If you stop, look closer and analyse the brands Christophe Lemaire has worked with in the past, and the ones he currently collaborates with, you will find at least four very different organisations, operating in polar opposite sartorial theatres. Lemaire did Haute Couture at Christian LaCroix, sportswear at Lacoste, luxury goods at Hermès…. and wearabe staple pieces with a twist at his namesake label. If nothing else, Lemaire is a versatile designer, we have to give him that.

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Born in Besancon, France, in 1965, Lemaire has always been a ‘designer’s designer’. His brand and collections aren’t household names, more like favourite secrets that the industry insiders have chosen to keep on a ‘need to know’ basis. His own brand has been going since 1991, and - like his own development - you can see it maturing over the years, helped by the lessons learnt at Hermès and Lacoste.

Currently, arguably at his creative peak, Lemaire has not only managed to establish his characteristic look but also to perfect the concept of ‘wardrobe designing’. Every season his collections are full of those ‘I need this’ pieces, not in a trend-led kind of way, but like garments you can see yourself appreciate year after year. This time around that’s visible in oversized woven T-shirts, pleated trousers, drawstring denim trousers, leather slippers and roomy Caban pea coats. In order to establish the fundamental ethos behind the brand, and to find out what was behind Lemaire’s current SS14 season, we tracked him down in Paris and put a few questions to him…

 

David: You design a wardrobe rather than trends, how does that affect the design process?

Christophe: I like to improve existing pieces but I’m also very excited in creating new volumes - the process is very organic and straightforward.

 

David: Would you say it’s more about refining classics in that case?

Christophe: Exactly. It’s all about improving the volume, refining the details, the finishings. All those little things that make a garment desirable and long lasting.

David: What is your design process like for a collection?

Christophe: I have the most simple relationship to fashion. I always ask myself the essential question: ‘What do I want to wear today and what will I want to wear tomorrow’? I’m also very curious to know what people are expecting from a garment and what are our customer’s comments. I’m very curious get have feedback, it helps improving the next collection.

David: Do you work with literal inspiration and, in that case, what influenced the SS14 collection?

Christophe: I was, and always am, very influenced by musicians and their style and attitude, like David Bowie and Echo & the Bunnymen, David Byrne and Ian Curtis, to name a few. The Spring Summer collection is an essential and bright wardrobe for every-day life. Black washed cotton sets, inspired by the Vietnamese army, enrich the base of the vestiaire. Pyjamas like uniforms shall be worn out in town or at home, day and night. The volumes are generous and the pockets are conceived to free your hands for the summer holidays.

David: You’ve worked with Lacoste and Hermès, in many ways two polar opposites. Can you name one main thing that each collaboration taught you, and that has helped your own brand?

Christophe: I don’t think they’re polar opposites. Lacoste and Hermès, historically, designed sport chic garments since the 20s. They both have a beautiful heritage and a DNA of relaxed elegance. Of course materials, distribution and the philosophy differ but the roots have something in common. Lacoste taught me to work within a commercial reality and Hermès’ beautiful history of craftsmanship and attention to detail is very inspiring and demanding.

David: Lacoste does sportswear and Hermès is all about luxury - how do you describe and define your own brand?

Christophe: We want to design a very qualitative vestiaire made to last, and that is wearable for a diverse range of individuals who are more interested in style than fashion. Clothes are made in fabrics made to last. They are convertible and hybrid. The brand is very free, very much about the present… Its rules are always reinvented.

David: Your clothes often look loose and comfortable - is versatile functionality important to you?

Christophe: Yes, it’s important to feel comfortable! You move differently when you have room, like in a spacious home. . .

David: Tailoring is a big part of your collections, but it feels ‘alternative’ in many ways - what role do you think the suit plays today?

Christophe: My tailoring is very comfortable, it’s loose, slightly oversized, sometimes as light as as shirt. I like the elegance of the suit and the way it can change your behaviour when you wear one.

David: Are you more comfortable designing men’s clothes or womenswear?

Christophe: It’s a different process. As I said earlier, I design the men’s collection very selfishly. I design the womenswear with Sarah-Linh, and she also has this very pragmatic vision of the vestiaire. She knows what women are expecting from a garment!

David: Can you talk a bit about the colours and fabrics you chose for the season?

Christophe: The colours [ginger, mahogany, honey, blue-green and ash grey] look like they have been faded by the summer sun, year after year and they’re inspired by Luigi Guirri’s photographs. We used a lot of cottons and blends of cotton and linens, a beautiful Japanese selvedge denim, as well as an archive Japanese suiting fabric with a hint of the 50s. And a lot of cotton muslin for the hot summer days…

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