Singaporean, Australian and Indian fashion designers in Paris among expat stars to have seized the spotlight in couture capital
The City of Lights has long been a magnet for international talent, from music to the arts, and fashion is well represented, with Australian designer Martin Grant, Andrew Gn from Singapore and India’s Manish Arora making their mark
Cristobal Balenciaga, Kenzo Takada, Comme des Garçons’ Rei Kawakubo, Karl Lagerfeld: French fashion may reign supreme but Paris owes a deep debt to the many expatriate designers who left their mark on its colourful history. Even haute couture, its most elevated and most French way of life, was invented by British couturier Charles Frederick Worth.
As Paris continues to be fashion’s creative capital and a cosmopolitan crossroads that attracts designers and couturiers, here are five expatriates making an impact on the Paris fashion scene with eye-catching creations.
Andrew Gn: East meets West in a marriage of passion and precision
“To make your mark in Paris, where fashion winds blow in so many directions, you must stay true to yourself. Your creativity will flourish on its own. This is the only way to distinguish yourself from the pack,” says Andrew Gn, who moved to the city in 1992 and launched his eponymous brand four years later.
Born in Singapore, Gn furthered his cosmopolitan upbringing by studying at London’s Central Saint Martin and Milan’s Domus Academy before arriving in Paris to assist Emmanuel Ungaro.
Out of his Parisian atelier come coats with geometric designs, jackets with voluminous sleeves covered in intricate embroidery, floor-length gowns with their bodices encrusted with flowers – from a master of the cut who understands his clientele perfectly.“While other cities may endeavour to compete with Paris, this city retains a creativity which is unique, and an incredible savoir-faire in all the métiers of fashion,” says the designer, whose creations feels like a painterly scene. Whether at a cocktail or in the boardroom, his women stand out in designs that blend his pan-Asian heritage and a magpie-like sensibility for beauty and culture.
Yazbukey: Poptastic Plexiglass with quirky feminine humour
Turkish-born Yaz Bukey may be a descendant of Ottoman royalty but Paris is where she carved her creative empire of Yazbukey, a label famous for its bold Plexiglass jewellery and clutches, and now including apparel, home decor and most recently, pet accessories.
Since introducing her first range in 1999, Bukey, who studied industrial design before veering off into fashion and assisting Jeremy Scott, has developed an international following, including Bjork, Madonna and Kylie Minogue, who appreciate her tongue-in-cheek designs, which combine Technicolor hues, striking shapes and graphic lines.
The designer is particularly fond of “Paris’ feeling of being in a village”, as well as its position as a convenient travel hub for Asia and the Americas. “If I’d stayed in Turkey, it would take me 12 hours to get to New York – no thanks!” she jokes. With collaborations with global brands such as Lacoste, make-up mega brand Shu Uemura or most recently Hello Kitty under her belt, that’s certainly one advantage worth holding onto.
Martin Grant: Sculpting a tailor’s definitive feminine wardrobe
“Paris is still the most creative capital due to constant experimentation, at all levels,” says Australian designer Martin Grant. “And not just from emerging designers. Big houses are taking risks.”
Melbourne-born Grant was a risk-taker and designer long before moving to Paris. He’s had his own brand since the age of 16, won the Cointreau Young Designer Award in 1988 and graduated as a sculptor.
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When he started his Paris-based label in 1991 after being struck by “its beauty, history and light. I felt as though I was in a film like Breathless or Last Tango in Paris,” his business was based from his flat. But by 2004, he’d caught the eye of former US Vogue editor Andre Leon Talley; had Naomi Campbell turn up to model his designs pro bono, so impressed was she by his work; and been invited to the Paris ready-to-wear schedule.
Fabric is 51-year-old Grant’s inspiration, informing the cuts that he is constantly finessing. His clean, modern, quietly sculptural clothes –tailored trousers, classic trench coats and dresses are as technically rigorous as could be expected of someone who stopped en route to study bespoke tailoring in London.
His understated staples have been spotted on Cate Blanchett, Queen Rania of Jordan and Gong Li, and are now travelling the world on Australia’s national airline Qantas, for whom he designed flight staff uniforms.
Racil: The smoking hot shortcut to Parisian chic
It’s hard to grow up surrounded by elegance and beauty and not be affected by it, says Beirut-born, Paris-raised Racil Chalhoub, who credits the City of Light for her vocation as a designer. Although she has since moved to London, Chalhoub’s line of contemporary tuxedos was launched in 2015 during Paris Fashion Week, to rip up the genre’s rulebook to reinvent ‘Le Smoking’ as a staple for today’s unfussy power dresser.
“There are a lot of untold rules in Paris, certain barriers that people expect you to know about. You need to know them to swiftly dance around them… elegantly,” she says. Elegant trouser suits, dinner jackets, and now dresses feature jewel tones, feminine cuts and even dreamy prints, and can be worn dressed up or down. It’s little wonder Leandra Medine, Karlie Kloss and Caroline Issa are among those spotted wearing Racil on a night (or day) about town.
Manish Arora: Life is beautiful when seen in full colour
Although it had launched a decade prior,the colourful world of Manish Arora burst on stage in 2007, when the Indian designer was invited to show on the official Paris ready-to-wear schedule. “My work is an extension of my personality, and so just as I did, my brand too found its happy place here,” he says. His love affair with the city he calls “a home away from home,” is mutual: in 2016 he was awarded the Legion of Honour, the highest civilian distinction in France.
The Indian designer, who now divides his time between Delhi and Paris,where he lives overlooking the buzzy Canal Saint Martin,has leveraged the rich textile traditions of his homeland into a contemporary retelling, which features a melting pot of anything from pop culture references like Candy Crush and My Little Pony, to traditional Zardozi embroideries, via the Burning Man Festival.
Among the celebrity clientele enjoying his exuberance are Rihanna, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry and Nicki Minaj. But anyone can blend his supercharged bohemian wardrobe of full skirts, fun sweaters and embroideries galore into their style even without a stage performance in mind. Arora opens two stores this month in Shanghai and Suzhou, with Beijing, Chongqing and Xiamen in the pipeline for 2018.