French designer’s Hong Kong visit a leather-heavy show

Jean-Claude Jitrois, who is in Hong Kong for an art collaboration and has his eyes on China, started out as a psychologist before entering the world of fashion

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 January, 2017, 5:02pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 18 January, 2017, 3:36am

For a master of leather, Jean-Claude Jitrois is dressed, for once, in jeans and simple white T-shirt.

The busy 72-year-old French designer made a visit to Hong Kong recently to see private clients, promote an art collaboration and just “for the love of it.” But leather is never far away and mid-interview Jitrois is paid a visit by artist Stanley Wong, better known as Anothermountainman.

Thus begins an impromptu preview of the work – two black leather shirts with hand-painted motifs and slogans – to be auctioned off for charity later that evening.

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A committed globalist, Jitrois is keen to bring his own creations to China and Hong Kong but keener still and to find inspiration anywhere he can find it. As well as its expertise with leather, the French maison has become synonymous with art and artistic collaboration. Jitrois’ current focus, for both commerce and culture, is firmly set on Asia.

Founded in 1983, Jitrois has a devoted celebrity following including Lady Gaga and Beyoncé and Chinese stars such as Carina Lau and Zhang ZiyiJitrois is enjoying something of a resurgence in China, which was boosted after Zheng Jun, a judge on the popular TV show The Voice of China, wore one of the brand’s outfits a few years ago.

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Jitrois’ focus on Asia is at odds with other European luxury brands who have become more cautious after a slowdown in sales in the region.

“Some of the brands have overdeveloped their offer. There was a crisis in luxury with the big brands doing too much.” says Jitrois. “We believe in Hong Kong, and it’s still our focus. Hong Kong is like a phoenix, it’s always been up and down,” he says. Jitrois was first brought over by Joyce boutiques. It suffered like other luxury brands during Sars, then found a niche with Harvey Nichols. He opened a own boutique in Central in 2014 before complications arose which led to a closure a year later.

Jitrois, who takes the recent upheavals in his stride, says success came late. His journey to becoming a fashion designer was long and circuitous. An army brat, Jitrois was born Jean-Claude Coste, and spent some time living in Algeria where his pilot father was posted before returning to France to study psychology in the early 1960s. Jitrois also studied in Zurich before specialising in childhood and developmental psychology.

Jitrois went on to become a mental health professional, a published author of books on psychology and finally a university lecturer. The abrupt move to fashion happened after he became interested in the idea of “second skins”: uniforms worn by people to attain a level of comfort. Coupled with his lifelong fascination with his father’s aviation jacket, Jitrois began experimenting with leather and creating clothing in the late ’70s.

The latest spring-summer collection, titled Another World, ruminates on ideas of identity and second skins with tattoo-inspired prints that invert the conventional notion of body art. Jitrois says he used embroideries of suede, leather and other materials, which were placed on the skin temporarily, a play on tattoos and time.

The company is coming out of a corporate reset and is again looking to expand. Jitrois was keen to clarify that recent reports of American investment were strictly limited to one store in New York, its first in the city, and that he is still very much in sole control of his company.

Jitrois feels the company is on the right path again and adds that as long as the company’s commitment to quality are maintained people will continue to seek out his clothes.