Numéro: This issue is dedicated to fairytales… And where modern princesses are concerned, you’re a specialist, since you’ve dressed not only Rihanna but many other stars.
Alexandre Vauthier: To each era its princesses, which is to say its references in terms of fantasy. Today they are indeed embodied by R’n’B stars like Rihanna, who excel in juggling a very controlled casual style and an extreme sophistication. What’s interesting is precisely this split, which makes yesterday’s codes and classifications invalid. Today, to stand out, you need to know how to play with the codes and make them yours. For fashion has never been so quick to change, in an age when we’re all completely flooded with images and information. So if you’re a fashion designer, you really have to have your ear to the ground. The designer’s role today isn’t to come up with something ultra-personal but rather something interesting that the stars who define the style of our times haven’t yet thought of. You need to be a little bit ahead of them. So it’s a question of reflection and analysis. It’s exhilarating. Everything must be not only thought through and considered, but also intelligent and quick.
You’ve known Rihanna for a long time, and she’s remained loyal to you. How would you describe the evolution of her style?
Rihanna’s been following me since I started out, and she still chooses my clothes for many of her events. I’m very touched by her loyalty. What’s interesting is to see the evolution of her style and mine: what we were doing seven years ago sometimes seems outmoded to me now, because of how fast fashion changes these days. But unlike the pessimists who blame the times and see only a phenomenon of accelerated consumption, I see a greater capacity to understand fashion instinctively and to digest it. This speed is also the result of an extreme desire for freedom, the desire to avoid doctrines. In the world of men’s fashion, A$AP Rocky embodies this acceleration in the way he bridges the gap that existed between the street and luxury, between rap culture and chic… He’s part of a powerful current, hip-hop, and he invents very personal codes. He brings something truly new.
Since you started out in haute couture, eight years ago, some designers have claimed there’s no luxury anymore, only fashion. Would you agree?
No. It seems to me rather that several business models currently coexist. Luxury is about the work and thought that go into a garment. It’s a choice, it’s about working as a family with a very solid team and in close collaboration with the suppliers. After the era of the it-bag and the it-shoes, I think we’re finally coming back to the garment; styling has taken on a lot of importance these past 15 years, but clients’ knowledge and exactingness have grown to the point that that’s no longer enough. You also need well-made clothes.
Which is exactly what you learned to do.
Yes, I was lucky enough to be apprenticed to some of the mythic couturiers of the 20th century. I worked for Thierry Mugler, who was a specialist in the architecture of clothing. Then, when I was involved with Jean Paul Gaultier’s haute couture line, all the head seamstresses from Yves Saint Laurent and Christian Lacroix came to work with us. So I got to know the working methods of the greatest couture houses while working for just one of them. People have long been saying that haute couture is dead, but it just has to adapt. The methods are still perfect. You can inherit this history, this know-how, and do something contemporary with it. Why, even in the context of this contemporary speed, should we forget quality?
What inspires you and what do you like about our times?
I think I just like people, to be honest. This morning I discovered a new singer on YouTube. I like to see everything that’s going on; music influences me a lot. It’s through understanding the world, and the trends, that you can understand people’s desires.
Would you say you have a certain affinity with Karl Lagerfeld, who has always drawn from contemporary culture?
Karl is fascinating – few people have had such a strong capacity for interpretation and adaptation. He’s a source of inspiration of course, just like Hedi Slimane and Tom Ford,
who also understood their times very well. You need an intelligence with respect to both the context and the product. In fashion today, the two are indivisible.
You’ve considerably developed your own label, and are now offering pre-collections and a line of footwear.
Yes, it’s becoming more solid, but it’s still fragile. I developed all these sectors at the request of our buyers. It’s something that happened organically, over time. Today designing and making shoes has almost become a game. I just make sure that the sales figures are on the rise from season to season. It’s also very satisfying to note that the same stores have been following me from the start, increasing the volume of their orders. They’re participating in the development of the brand, since they’re vectors of its image.
In your last haute-couture collection, as well as in your ready-to-wear, there are a lot of different ideas that coexist with several variations on the theme of the chic tuxedo.
I think that’s what today’s women want: they want to alternate between sportswear and glamour. In their wardrobe they need a hoodie, a chic tuxedo, and an ultra-sexy evening gown… I want to give them the tools to live their lives. I’m French, and sometimes I deliberately think in a very clichéd way. What does France symbolize? Champagne, perfume and luxury. And what do people remember? Pretty dresses, tuxedos, a very Parisian attitude, a certain idea of chic. Place Vendôme will always be mythical. There are some things you can’t fight against, but which you must play and dance with. I don’t want to destroy everything that came before; it’s about using history and reinterpreting it.
More than anything your strength lies in a certain fatal glamour and in your desire to sublimate women.
I love to make them beautiful. I like the look on a man’s face when he sees a bombshell walk by, a woman who awakens his senses – he’s completely absorbed and stupefied. At that moment, all his principles fall by the wayside, because he’s face to face with the object of his dreams. Whatever his political or other convictions, in such a moment it’s the power of beauty that wins the day. My respect for women is such that I do everything I can for them to have this power over men. And I think that it nurtures men, the fact of accepting this power that women have over them. I try to work on this relationship of interdependence.
Among the bombshells you work with are some of the world’s most famous top models, from Bella Hadid to Jourdan Dunn, who all appear in your runway shows. I just adore these girls. Working alongside them is simply a no-brainer. I can’t possibly complain about being surrounded by the most beautiful girls in the world !