How to draw a very fine line

PUBLISHED : Friday, 17 February, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 17 February, 2012, 12:00am


There was no late night partying for Alexandre Vauthier to celebrate the presentation of his spring-summer haute couture collection. He was in his studio bright-eyed and ready to start designing his autumn ready-to-wear collection first thing the following morning. How does he manage to look so energised?

'Be in bed before midnight, eat well, drink no alcohol and go to the gym or run every day,' says Vauthier, who has the compact muscular physique of someone who enjoys a bit of weight training. He explains that sport is how he handles the pressures of running a fledgling design label.

Vauthier, who's worked alongside Thierry Mugler and as head designer for Jean Paul Gaultier's couture collection, is an independently funded designer who doesn't have a big game plan to launch a flagship shop in three years, a fragrance in five and so on. He doesn't appear remotely egotistical either, which is refreshing in this business. 'I don't think long term, I like to live for the present,' says Vauthier, as he relaxes on a big leather sofa in his studio.

He launched his haute couture label in January 2009 with a distinct architectural silhouette that, he is at pains to explain, should not be regarded as a signature look. 'I wanted to create something very balanced,' he says in near perfect English, 'A strong image, modern and elegant; clothes you keep in your wardrobe for a long time.'

He followed up with a ready-to-wear collection in 2010 and now has 25 points of sale around the world, including Joyce on the mainland and Harvey Nichols in Hong Kong. 'I want to develop slowly but surely, if I can. The best compliment is to see women wearing my clothes; to have that acknowledgement from my customers.'

On the rails lining this lofty 18th-century apartment in Paris' chic 16th arrondissement are the fruits of his labours. By the window is the spring-summer 2012 haute couture collection he showed the previous evening: draped silks, sleek tailoring, feathers and furs in celadon green, white and gold, inspired, he explains, by a bottle of Estee Lauder's Youth Dew fragrance.

On the opposite wall is a rail of ready-to-wear and a few pieces that didn't get sent to Beijing, where Joyce held a small exhibition of his winter haute couture 2011-12 Red collection over Lunar New Year - his first exhibition on the mainland.

The radical silhouette, wide-shouldered dresses, sleek tie-front trouser suits and fluid jersey gowns of this collection appeared in every celebratory tone of red, from scarlet to crimson and burgundy. The alluring styles, which referenced the 1930s and the '70s, punched out a bold statement.

'It was red, graphic and strong,' says Vauthier. 'I work with my instinct and wanted a very monochrome conceptual collection, with a lot of impact.'

It was the right decision. This collection presents such a dynamic image that Joyce decided to order everything in the ready-to-wear collection (which is derived from the haute couture) in red only to create a natural synergy. Customers could either place a private order for the haute couture or take the ready to wear. Such has been its success that Joyce is now planning to take the exhibition to Shanghai.

The wide shoulders and architectural cuts of his early lines reflect the influence of working with Thierry Mugler in the '90s. The couturier retired at the start of the millennium to concentrate on his fragrance business.

Vauthier has been no slouch, either, when it comes to celebrity endorsement. Some of his diva-esque pieces have been worn by Rihanna, Lady Gaga and Beyonce - bold, confident stars with strong images. He has also dressed Isabelle Huppert, Kate Hudson, Sophia Loren and the white-haired, glamorous veteran model Carmen dell'Orefice.

'It is very interesting to see that there are actually lots of different women choosing my clothes: some young, some more mature, people from different social and cultural backgrounds.'

He says his work is not about a silhouette, but a style. His latest haute couture collection is distinctly more relaxed, lighter and romantic with long swishy, feather fringed gowns, jumpsuits and more references to the '30s style of evening wear.

He also reworks some of the styles in the same mood but in different fabrics for his ready-to-wear line, which he launched last year.

Vauthier was raised in Bordeaux in southwest France. His family comes from the Arcachon region which is famed for its oysters. His mother and grandmother loved fashion (his grandmother wore Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent and his artist mother had a taste for the younger designers of the '70s) and regularly took him clothes shopping when he should have been doing his homework while at primary school.

His father wanted him to go into law but the young Vauthier spent more time clubbing than attending to his studies. Eventually, his father capitulated and agreed to let him study fashion at the Bordeaux campus of the respected Parisian college, ESMOD.

Vauthier moved to Paris when he was 22 and rang Mugler every day until the designer gave him a job. Mugler was renowned for his explosive glamour and razor-sharp tailoring. His haute couture spectaculars that Vauthier assisted starred models such as Jerry Hall and Eva Herzigova.

'He was like a father to me,' reflects Vauthier. 'Mugler taught me everything, not just the construction of the clothes, but precision and to always look at clothes in 3-D and in movement.'

He left Mugler after four years and joined Jean Paul Gaultier in 1998 to run the haute couture studio - it was Gaultier's third season in couture. 'Mugler was about construction and this Las Vegas spectacle, whereas Jean Paul is more Parisian and fun. At Jean Paul we created a classic, more luxurious spirit.'

Vauthier stayed eight years with Gaultier, and when he left was tapped by Dolce & Gabbana to run their two design studios. The job was tempting, but he didn't like Milan, in particular its weather.

'I wanted to do something more personal before I was 40,' he says, referring to the milestone he reached last November.

So at the age of 38 he made his haute couture debut. 'It was difficult in the beginning, logistically. I had no specific office and was running from one part of Paris to another all day long, finding locations for fittings, preparing the collection. Designing the collection itself was easier: I had it very clear in my mind.'

Vauthier has not looked back. Last year he was promoted to the official haute couture schedule. 'I think that my background at Mugler and Gaultier gave me credibility. I wanted to prove to myself I could do it.'

Judging by his latest collections, you could say, job done.