The Clan of Jacquemus
Simon Porte is an early riser. The 23-year-old phenomenon behind the brand Jacquemus admits to not getting much sleep—an understatement coming from the young, charismatic designer who’s kept the Parisian fashion world abuzz since launching his own label at 19. Jacquemus’ Fall/Winter 2013 show was a perfect depiction of his unconventional rise to success. Porte was already on the official fashion week calendar by his second show, for which the designer gathered industry luminaries at a public pool near the Bastille in Paris. Plastic covers over stilettos were mandatory attire and, at the show’s conclusion, he received a touching and rare standing ovation.
Porte is more storyteller than conceptual designer. His trademark, offbeat films are now one of the highlights of Paris Fashion Week. His muse, whether Caroline de Maigret or Jeanne Damas, is always fresh-faced and down to earth—or “naïve,” as he puts it. But one thing’s for sure, the Jacquemus girl is quintessentially French.
Let’s begin with your debut. Tell us about being the new designer on the block.
My dream since way back was to go to fashion design school. So naturally, after high school, I moved to Paris where I started attending ESMOD [an acclaimed fashion school] and very quickly dropped out. In a naïve way, I decided to make clothes. I had no idea what owning a brand implied or how seasons worked. I started with the launch of a collection on the Internet. I was lucky enough to get immediate feedback with articles, blog posts, and people sharing and liking my work. At first, I was surprised by all the attention, but that was the starting point of Jacquemus.
Did you already have an idea of what you wanted to create—a clear direction?
I already knew I had a thing for clean and simple designs. The direction I wanted to follow was already established, although my first designs were influenced by the eternal issue of cost saving. I established myself as a minimalist because simple cuts are cheaper to make than wedding gowns.
Is that something you incorporate into your personal style as well?
I can at one point wear only white and the next second dress as a fake rapper. It’s really more about phases of style expression, but it’s still me, my look. I’m only 23. When you’re 23 you want to do just about anything and experiment. That goes for my style too.
When did you know you wanted to become a designer?
Very early on—like seven years old? But it’s bizarre because I don’t really have an explanation for it. There was no revelatory moment, like watching a Grace Kelly movie, thinking, wow, amazing. I remember I used to love watching Jean Paul Gaultier on TV. I liked the fact that he was close to people but at the same time able to make strong fashion statements. I liked knowing there was that kind of possibility.
I heard you sent him a letter when you were a child. How did that turn out?
Well, I never heard back from him. But I have to admit, I had also written to a national TV channel asking to be their stylist. You see, when you come from country life, far from anything fashion related, you want to send letters to everyone. I remember my words exactly: “You know, I am only 12 years old but if you hire me it will be a great success because a 12-year-old designer is something nobody has seen before.” I’ve always had this mindset of finding new ways to create buzz and that is what helps me today— thinking outside the box.
You manage to give your work extreme finesse while maintaining a colorful persona and spontaneous spirit that’s miles away from what the fashion world is used to. For instance, your sportswear, which is a huge part of your collections.
To me, sportswear doesn’t necessarily mean trainers or tennis shorts, but more a lifestyle, an attitude. Sportswear also implies to me that we’re in 2013; girls are real nowadays. They dress in a way that makes them feel comfortable and active. This is how I see it, more than just being about sports. But then, I am also turned on by the sports uniform, as I would be by any kind of uniform!
It’s also a way to transgress the established codes of what it means to be a traditional creator, making your style more relatable and wearable for a younger generation of active women.
Yes, I like to be approachable as a designer. I grew up with this image of designers, aside from Gaultier, who would put themselves on a pedestal. I do not wish that for myself. I want people, even those who are not interested in fashion or buying my clothes, to be able to understand where I come from in my work.
I think the models you choose also help convey that relatability. In the future, will you continue to showcase your clothes on real Parisian girls?
I really want to, but I’m not sure it will always be realistic. I always have the first five looks modeled by my friends. They are my people. But when I cast girls for my shows, it always comes down to whether the clothes look good on them or not. It’s all about the personality matching the clothes. I think it’s beautiful to be surrounded by an eclectic group of girls. In the end, it’s like they all want to be part of the Jacquemus clan.
Now that you are getting more recognition from the industry at large, do you feel any pressure to change the way the label functions?
On the contrary, now I want to assert myself even more. I want my collections to be even stronger. Every time I take one step ahead, I am more confident about what I want. I feel like my way of doing things has been pretty well received for the moment.
You seem to be everywhere these days.
Really? I’m always a bit obsessive about that. When I’m in a publication, I wake up at 8 a.m. to go buy the magazine and I always buy an additional copy for my grandmother.
Do you ever feel the need for solitude in order to create?
No, I never isolate myself from anything. I pay attention to things going on around me. I try to stay open. I live by one of Yohji Yamamoto’s sayings, Copy, never stop copying and in the end it will be you. It has so much truth to it. You mustn’t be scared to be influenced or inspired by things, because in the end, you will always say it with your own voice. But more than that, I have a thread to my work. It all revolves around “La Femme.” Centering the Jacquemus story on her has become a very intimate thing. My upcoming summer collection, for example, is the story of a girl who sells ice cream and falls in love. Said like that, it might not make much sense, but to me, it means more than the usual discourse some designers feel the need to enunciate. I really can’t put words on my style, to be honest. I’d rather tell my stories because they are the foundation of all my collections.
Have there been any landmarks in your life that you feel have significantly altered your career?
Yes, when my mother passed away it really changed the way I approached life. It forced me to grow up. When I first got to Paris, I didn’t know who I was, I was pretty lost. Then two months later, my mother passed away. It was such a shock that it forced me to change my life completely. I changed my mindset and decided to be myself and see where it would take me. I wouldn’t be where I am today if it hadn’t been for those challenging times.
Do you view this project as a tribute to your mother?
To me, it is my mother. It might seem a bit strange, but to me, it’s more than a tribute. She is a woman who still lives through Jacquemus. Each step we take, there’s a little bit of her in it every time. Seen from the outside you might not feel it, but we’ve been incredibly lucky since the beginning of the brand. It’s all very magical.
What is your WILD Wish?
It would be to do what I love everyday. To be able to work on my collections in the best possible conditions. What I really wish for is to be given the keys to an atelier and just focus on making my collections. That is my wish, to dedicate myself to this craft and to be able to materialize every idea that goes through my head.
All photos by Sabine Mirlesse