In Gaultier’s footsteps: Simon Porte Jacquemus knows how to win a girl’s heart

The secret is to make affordable fashion, says the young French designer, whose feminine, playfully deconstructed signature style has caught the eye of Chinese customers

PUBLISHED : Monday, 28 December, 2015, 2:15pm
UPDATED : Monday, 28 December, 2015, 2:15pm

When we first met in 2009, Simon Porte Jacquemus was sitting on the terrace of a cafe in Montmartre in Paris sipping pastis. The self-taught designer had just finished his first collection and was enthusiastic about the upcoming guerilla show he planned to stage at the entrance of a major Parisian fashion house during Fashion Week.

A few seasons and catwalk shows later, Jacquemus has lost his shyness and kept his bright smile – and his love for pastis. “What has changed is my way of working,” the 25-year-old says of the evolution of his brand. “I’ve only had my own atelier for less than a year, but it has totally changed the way I design clothes. I was working on the garment in a flat manner, like in a drawing, but now my clothes are directly moulded onto a girl. Everything is more lively and accurate than before. Sometimes I feel that my clothes have grown with me – I’ve reached a certain maturity and my clothes have as well.”

Today, his name on everyone’s lips, having brought back a certain je ne sais quoi to the catwalk – a chic, yet subtly eccentric and poetic style. With designers sourcing their inspirations globally and mixing different cultures and aesthetics, it is refreshing to see a designer who makes a statement by thinking, designing and producing with a local identity in mind.

Jacquemus’ design inventory is full of references to France, from his fascination with French Lolitas with Isabelle Adjani looks to his celebration of the lifestyle of the south of the country. So, how does it feel to carry the Gallic torch?

“I am obsessed with France. I always reflect the French spirit through my clothes – in fact, my collection is in the colours of the French flag. My grandfather taught me to be a radical, but with a smile on my face,” says Jacquemus.

“I really want to embody the symbol of ‘le coq Gaulois’ [the French rooster], just like Jean Paul Gaultier used to in the 1980s and ’90s, when he snubbed the elitism of fashion to make clothes for real people. I like to address anybody and everybody with my looks. I often give talks at fashion schools and I tell the students that everything is possible. It’s funny because the teachers invite me to speak during their classes and I basically say the exact opposite of what they were teaching throughout the year and, yet, they love it.” That’s a French paradox for sure.

Jacquemus is established internationally and sells in major luxury stores in Asia, including I.T Beijing and Hong Kong, Corso Como Shanghai, Beijing and Seoul and Club 21 in Singapore.

Not bad for a designer who developed his brand from scratch five years ago. What’s his secret? “You need to be affordable if you want to win a girl’s heart and wardrobe,” he says.

Jacquemus’ price range – coats start at 600 (HK$5,000) and dresses at 350 – is one of the many reasons why his ready-to-wear collections sell. His feminine, playfully deconstructed signature style pleases his Chinese customers. “Their feedback is great, I’m always impressed that they know so much about my work, especially because it contains so many typical French references that are not necessarily easily understood if you aren’t French,” says Jacquemus. “They’re very curious about discovering young designers and independent brands and, most importantly, they’re comfortable with wearing statement pieces, much more so than European customers – they know how to have fun with my fashion.”

What’s next ? “For now, I am just happy that people wear my clothes – a few years ago, the first collection that was marketed at Le Bon Marché sold out in the blink of an eye. Seeing my clothes in glossy fashion magazines and worn by real people is what fulfils me most.”