The Past, Present and Future of Haute Couture
Interview by Stacey Blanchet
Julien Fournié, the eponymous founder of his own Parisian haute couture label, originally studied biology. In 2009, he channeled that scientific edge into precisely cut fashion creations when he launched his brand. Previously the Creative Director at Torrente, and
having worked for some of the biggest names in fashion such as Jean Paul Gaultier, Givenchy and Christian Dior, it is no surprise that he, and his anatomic designs quickly rose to the top.
In recent years, Fournié has been looking towards the future and bridging the gap between fashion and technology. As an ambassador for Fashion Lab, an avant-garde technology incubator created by Dassault Systèmes, he is able to use 3D engineering for his clothing designs. Not only is he leveraging technology, Fournié is also broadening his horizons from the Parisian fashion scene, and making his mark in the Asian market after
showing a collection in Singapore. Trend Privé sits down with the couturier in an exclusive interview to discuss the past, present and future of haute couture.
As a designer on the Paris scene, how has Paris Fashion week changed
in the past 10 years?
Actually, there are (3) Paris Fashion Weeks for every season: men’s wear, women’s wear and Haute Couture. Paris is the only fashion world capital to organize (6) fashion weeks a year. This is also probably a sign that Paris is still leading. The Haute Couture Fashion Week scene hasn’t changed much: in January 2004, I was presenting my first Haute Couture show as the Creative Director, of Torrente. The internet was here and it has vastly developed since. There have been good and bad changes:
more real fashion writers and critics (as in every fashion week), Fashion editors had more freedom to choose designers who were not investing in campaigns in their magazines. I remember Isabelle Blow, was at my first Haute Couture show for Torrente, and made a special editorial in English Tatler Magazine. That doesn’t happen much anymore. On the other hand, the fashion bloggers phenomenon had not even started then. It has, since
that time, made Haute Couture more popular via the web 2.0. I would say that the essence of Haute Couture, the direct relationship between a couturier and its customers has been knowing and will still be knowing further developments. This is one of the aspects we are working on with the FashionLab…
Each couture week loses more designers. How do you think that should change to showcase more couture?
Really, do you think that this is true? In the last 10 years, several Haute Couture houses have ceased to exist, like Christian Lacroix for instance.
However, I am not the only designer to have chosen Paris Haute Couture to showcase genuine creativity, a whole new set of designers has done the same, be they from France, other European countries or other continents.
Paris Fashion Week has been, forever I think, the fashion capital where more international designers have come to compete together. It is still welcoming nowadays the most important number of designers from various parts of the planet on the global scene of fashion weeks.
This is true both for Haute Couture and for womenswear. It could be argued
that menswear is still led by Milan and Florence, in Italy, and in this field of
menswear, New York and London are also evolving now and are changing
the game. But for creative womenswear, Paris is the leader.
As far as Haute Couture is concerned, let me make it clear that it represents a French label, protected worldwide. Although many people ignore this and many designers pretend they are doing Haute Couture worldwide -although they are not entitled to do so- I don’t think many know what Haute Couture really is about. Basically Haute Couture means this very delicate balance between tradition and innovation, When fashion can be assimilated to art, this is Haute Couture, and this can only be showcased in Paris It has been so since the second half of the 19th century. This still applies today, when many fashion weeks around the planet like to call themselves Couture.
When I am hearing this and seeing what I am seeing coming from these runways, excuse me but they could also be calling themselves « tacky » instead of « Couture ». Often, it means that they want to showcase brands which are pretending to create luxury garments without the right hand, know how and creative skills indispensable to Haute Couture. If many so-called Couture fashion weeks around the planet are losing designers, if is because they are fake Couture. The Haute Couture fashion week is happening in Paris only. Period.
You have created the “FashionLab”. Can you explain the reason why and what is it purpose for you?
First of all, let me tell you that the FashionLab was created by our company together and in complete partnership with Dassault Systèmes, a major French company involved in 3D design for many years and with many industries. Fashion, unlike other industries (like the car or the aircraft industries), was not very prone to including new technologies in its design, product life cycle management or retailing aspects…I believe that when new technologies are at hand, they invariably become used. We have created the FashionLab to become a hub for research and development of the next generation tools for the fashion industry. Now, everybody wants to include these tools in their creative process, but back in 2011, when we founded the FashionLab, everybody was very cautious. We are not only thinking of 3D printing or about visible gadgets and gimmicks when we are talking about tools, but about invisible processes which will change the face of designing
and retailing fashion.
You create all your own fabrics. How long is that process and where do you have them made?
Here again it is all about collaborating with fabrics manufacturers. Each season, I am creating a new print. I sketch it by hand as well as on a computer and then we have it printed in a very classic manner.
Some other exclusive fabrics come from a partnership with fabric makers. I have been collaborating for the past two years with the very prestigious house of Sophie Hallette, a French lace maker, specialized in the field of embroidered lace. The patterns I am using exclusively are either my choice among their collections and then become exclusive simply because they do not propose the same designs to other couturiers and designers,
or because I chose a pattern of lace in which we will decide together which embroideries will be made, in which color, with which elements etc.… It is a combination of skills. This is what Haute Couture is about: showcasing not only the talent of a fashion designer, but also of a whole set of craftsmanship which is present in France particularly, where we
have an incredible heritage of creativity.
Very often, I am also transforming a pattern of jacquard fabric created by the house of Sfate & Combier placing into their original proposal new motifs I have designed myself. The exclusive and original aspect thus comes from the combination of a house’s know how and creative skills together with the couturier’s ideas.
For embroideries, apart from the Sophie Hallette embroidered lace, I also have, in our house, an atelier of embroidery. I am very happy to continue this tradition of embroidering for Haute Couture inside my fashion house with the incredible know how and lightness of French hands.
Where do you draw your influence from when creating each season? Who is your target audience in terms of age and country?
I am sorry, but I have to make one point clear before I will answer your question. A couturier should not have a « target ». I mean this in the sense that if you design garments with some « target » in mind, you are very likely to be less creative than if you are just following the story you want to tell through a particular collection. I have been lucky enough to see women like the « stories » on my runway. In Haute Couture what
we do for them remains in the secret of our salons. I would not call this « targeting » by the way, but more a kind of special collaboration with an exceptional lady who wants an exceptional outfit for an exceptional moment. They either chose one from the runway and we make it again to their exact measurements, or we create one only for them with their requirements filtered and augmented with my ideas and this is called a
The « influence » -as you are calling it- which I am following, is never based on a « target ». Where does my inspiration come from? It is a difficult question to answer. To be frank, I don’t know. It is every time different: it can come from an old movie I suddenly remember and which seems pertinent for today, it can come from a piece of music which I suddenly want to share, it can come from a silhouette I have come across randomly on the street, it can come from a painting, from the reading of a novel, from a documentary movie… or, more likely, from a mix of all these. Then, all of a sudden, I start by sketching, trying to include in this vision the codes, the design obsessions I have for my style. I am also
constantly questioning these and making them evolve in terms of volume, color, fabrics, and embellishments. Sketching in 3D with the Fashion-Lab tools on my IPad Pro has helped me a lot recently to « preview » the results from all angles in a faster and stronger manner. However, I am realizing also now that my collections all have something in common:
enhancing the strength of women with their vulnerable touch. I could say that, although I am not a believer, a sentence from the Bible is key to me: « It is when I am weak that I am strong ». All of my designs tend to reconcile women with this vulnerable aspect, which is, in my eyes, their master weapon of seduction. Something that men are seldom using. So I
am going against this idea of having women mimicking men to feel stronger. This is something that the younger generation understands very well, and I believe that this is the reason why the major part of my Haute Couture customers are under 25. But this does not mean that I am designing with them in mind only …
Photographer: Gilles-Marie Zimmermann
Creative Direction & Styling: Julien Fournié
Assisted by Jean Paul Cauvin
Make Up : Nicolas Degennes
Assisted by Fanny Mar t in
Hair : Cristian Pignatta @ ELSLManagement for Neville
Models: Katerina Semenova @ MModels Paris
& LinLi @ Mademoiselle Paris.
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